Although the Massachusetts hockey team continues to search for its identity with a revamped roster, the Minutemen are sure they possess two qualities: inexperience and resilience.
With 13 freshmen on the roster, many of whom log important minutes on the ice, inexperience was to be expected. The resilience, however, was something nobody could’ve predicted.
Both traits were evident when the Minutemen opened their conference schedule with a home-and-home series against No. 8 Boston University.
On Oct. 16, UMass went to Boston to play BU in its home-opener. UMass’ inexperience quickly took center stage, as the Minutemen surrendered two goals in the first period. After a scoreless second, UMass’ resiliency shined through in the third, when Darren Rowe and Marc Concannon scored to tie the game, 2-2. Prior to those goals, UMass rookie goaltender Jeff Teglia was determined not to allow another Terrier goal. After the first period, Teglia made 24 saves en route to UMass’ conference-opening draw.
Had it not been for an ugly first period, the result could have been a win for UMass. But inconsistent play has haunted the Minutemen’s season thus far, as they can’t seem to string together a strong performance for the full 60 minutes of regulation.
“Inexperience is the biggest reason [for that],” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “We get great performances from most of the kids most of the time [but then] there’s that inexperience that pops up that hurts us on the penalty kill or a particular situation where something isn’t recognized as quickly as it might be if we had more games under our belt.”
Following the tie, UMass welcomed BU into the Mullins Center for a home-opener. After securing a quick 1-0 lead, the Minutemen eased up in the second period, allowing three unanswered goals. UMass made it tight in the third, but again couldn’t overcome key mistakes, ultimately losing, 4-3.
Two of BU’s four goals could’ve been prevented. On one, UMass broke down on a defensive assignment. On the other, a bad decision to pass laterally burned the Minutemen. The latter mistake resulted in a 4-2 deficit with less than two minutes to play. Still, the Minutemen did not give up, as Michael Marcou scored with 19 seconds left.
It’s that element of resilience that has Cahoon excited about this team despite a difficult start to the season.
“Those same kids that are inexperienced are passionate,” Cahoon said. “They have good skill level, are really competitive and have the wherewithal to be very good players at this level once they shore up their game a little bit.”
Only time will tell when that happens. In order for the Minutemen to change nail-biting losses into wins, they need their younger players to mature.
“There’s always a sense of urgency,” Cahoon said. “You want things to be as good as they can as soon as they can. Obviously there is a process that everyone has to go through and no one is absolutely sure of when that process will [be complete]. We’re hopeful that it’s sooner rather than later.”
In recent years, UMass leaned on certain players for production. Now, it demands contributions from up and down the roster. Without many of last year’s star players, nobody is taking anything for granted. Everybody is on the same page as they compete for ice time.
“I’m not trying to beat them down,” Cahoon said, following the 4-3 loss. “It was not a lack of competitiveness that led to the loss. It was a lack of execution [and consistency].”
They are competitive and resilient, yet inexperienced and inconsistent. The latter can only change with time. As soon as it does, UMass could be a major force in the premier Hockey East conference.
Steve Levine can be reached at [email protected]