Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Mass Attack face No. 14 Maine with postseason implications

Maria Uminski/Collegian

At the end of January, the Massachusetts hockey team played with the chance to move up in the Hockey East standings.

The Minutemen (5-15-5, 6-20-5 HEA) still have that opportunity this weekend with their final two games of the regular season. There’s only one difference – their playoff hopeshang in the balance.

“There’s no hiding the fact that this weekend, we produce and we get rewarded,” said UMass coach Don Cahoon. “Don’t produce and God knows anything can happen.”

Currently in eighth place in the conference standings, the Minutemen host No. 14 Maine (13-8-4, 16-10-6 HEA) on Friday and Saturday with a bid to the Hockey East Tournament on the line.

UMass (15 points) is two points ahead of ninth-place Providence (13) and one point behind of seventh-place Vermont (16). The Friars take on No. 7 Merrimack in a home-and-home series this weekend, while the Catamounts host UMass-Lowell in two games.

UMass can still take over seventh place in the standings with two wins and a UVM loss or tie in its final two games, but it is much different than the situation the Minutemen were in six weeks ago.

On Jan. 22, UMass recovered from a 2-1 defeat to the Catamounts to beat them, 6-0. In what was their best performance at Gutterson Fieldhouse in school history, the Minutemen took over sole possession of seventh place in Hockey East.

The next weekend, UMass had an opportunity to move up to sixth place with a home-and-home series win over Northeastern. Yet, a 3-0 loss at Matthews Arena on Jan. 28 followed by a 2-2 tie at the Mullins Center on Jan. 29 was the beginning of a 10-game stretch that saw the Minutemen grab just two points.

Since its win over UVM, UMass is winless with seven games decided by one goal or less. After a tie against Providence on Feb. 12, the Minutemen have lost their last four games by one point.

UMass still controls its own postseason destiny, but what was a virtual certainty for the Minutemen a month ago is now very much in question.

“That’s our reality,” said Cahoon. “No sense in worrying about because that just saps energy. You understand it and then you go forward and plan as you always would to put your best foot forward.”

Whether it has been scheduling or just mere coincidence, the Black Bears have historically stood in the way of UMass advancing in postseason contention. Generally, they have been a welcome foe for the Minutemen who have won five of their last six games against Maine and the last seven contests at the Mullins Center.

“It seems to me that, on a very regular basis, we get to March and the Maine series becomes a really pivotal series,” said Cahoon. “So here we are again with Maine in two very pivotal games that obviously have us paying attention to detail and trying to get these guys to feel good about the way they’re playing and how they’re playing.”

Last season, UMass won two games in Orono, Me., on March 5 and 6 (5-3, 4-2) to slip into the conference tournament. That is just the most recent of the two teams’ pivotal match-ups.

In 2003, the Minutemen beat the Black Bears to advance to the Hockey East Semifinals in two straight games on March 6 and 7 (5-3, 4-2).

Then, in the Hockey East Championship Game on March 20, 2004, it took three overtimes before Maine won 2-1 in what was the fourth-longest hockey game in NCAA history at 109 minutes, 27 seconds.

Three seasons later, on March 3, 2007, then-No. 16 UMass captured home ice for the first time, following a 5-3 victory over then-No. 9 Black Bears. The win came en route to four straight victories over Maine, including two in the Hockey East Quarterfinals.

The Minutemen eventually made an appearance in the East Regional round of eight of the NCAA tournament, nearly moving on to the Frozen Four. But in a fateful game on March 24, UMass met the Black Bears once again, with Maine getting the upper hand in a 3-1 win at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.

Friday’s game, beginning at 7 p.m., will mark another installment in this late-season rivalry and another chance for the Minutemen to stave off elimination against Maine.

“It’s not lost on me that here we are again,” said Cahoon. “I’m sure some of the players understand it more than others. It makes it a unique rivalry, that’s for sure.”

Dan Gigliotti can be reached at [email protected].

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