The Massachusetts hockey team will receive a break from conference play this weekend when it hosts Army and the Under-20 Swedish National Team.
After going 0-2-2 in four consecutive conference matchups, the Minutemen hope to collect their first win of the season against Army (1-4-0) when they host the Black Knights for a 7 p.m. drop on Friday.
Last weekend, Army split its weekend series with Canisius, 1-1. After losing Friday’s contest, 4-0, the Black Knights responded on Saturday with a 2-1win. Their grit and mental strength is something UMass coach Don Cahoon expects to see a lot of this Friday.
“They’re going to be exactly what we pride ourselves of being – a hardworking team that has no quit,” Cahoon said. “That’s just the way that whole institution is built. I’ve been in enough games against that team to know that they’ll overachieve simply because of their mentality. They have a few good players mixed in there and if we’re not careful, they’ll create a lot of problems for us.”
Those players include Andy Starczewski, who leads the team with four points in five games. Bryant Skarda, Marcel Alvarez and Danny Colvin are tied for second with three points. Army also boasts a strong goaltender in Jay Clark, who has started all five games to go along with a .911 save percentage.
Despite its non-conference nature, Friday’s game is a perfect opportunity for UMass to put one in the win column. Cahoon says his players are anxious for a win, which stems from last week’s 3-2 loss against Providence when UMass had many more scoring opportunities than the Friars. Cahoon attributed that loss to special teams woes and defensive breakdowns.
“[I’m] not frustrated, just disappointed,” Cahoon said about the abundance of one-goal losses. “I’m also hardened by the fact that we have some ability and we’ve got really good players that just need to mature a little bit. We’re playing too hard and there’s too much ability within that locker room to not look forward to what this could become if we right ourselves sooner rather than later.”
Two young players that are finding the stat sheet often are sophomore Darren Rowe and freshman Michael Pereira.
Like the rest of the UMass defenseman, Rowe came into this season expected to fill the shoes of Justin Braun and Matt Irwin, who both signed entry-level contracts with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks. Without them, Cahoon was afraid his team lacked effective power play blue-liners. Rowe, however, leads the team with five goals, three of which have come on the power play.
Cahoon is also impressed with Pereira, whose collegiate career is off to a flying start with three goals and two assists in six games.
Despite their youth and inexperience, Rowe and Pereira are becoming integral pieces to the team and are expected to contribute.
Following Friday’s match, the Minutemen will welcome the Swedish Under-20 National Team for an exhibition at noon on Saturday. Cahoon will use the exhibition to evaluate more of his players and to scout some of Sweden’s players who are college eligible.
“We want to win on Friday night, it’s an NCAA game and we need to get in the win column,” Cahoon said. “Saturday will be used as a tool to evaluate and we’ll probably use a non-traditional lineup. Some of our better players may be out of the lineup and many of the players we’re trying to develop will be in the lineup. Saturday is what it is. Friday’s [game] is definitely a game that we’ll play to win.”
Steve Levine can be reached at [email protected]