Minutemen bulk up for 2011-2012 season

By Steve Levine

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Hockey is just as much about size, strength and physicality as it is about speed, agility and skill.

Last year, the Massachusetts men’s hockey roster consisted of 14 freshmen, many of whom possessed only those latter elements in their game. The dreaded “freshmen 15,” enemy of the young weight watchers, needed to be packed on to UMass coach Don Cahoon’s players, who he saw as undersized. The team’s physical statures disadvantaged in strength battles, whether they were in front of the net or along the boards.

However, the Minutemen are much bigger coming into this season. All seven true freshmen are at least 6-foot-1 and weigh in at at least 194 pounds. Add them to the rigid off-season strength program the returning players underwent, and Cahoon’s team suddenly looks ready to bang bodies.

“There’s a big difference between what the sophomores looked like 12 months ago to what they look like now,” said Cahoon. “Most of them have put on some weight, they’ve gotten thicker through their bodies, they’re much more fit than they were a year ago. I’d be totally devastated if that wasn’t the case.”

Strength is required in many areas on the ice. From a skating perspective, strong legs are important for powerful strides, starting, turning or stopping. In addition, leg strength contributes to a powerful shot and increased balance. Upper body strength helps assist with puck control, as well as defeating opponents in one-on-one situations.

One of the major areas the Minutemen must control is the space in front of the net, which demands strength and physicality in order to gain position, set screens and collect loose rebounds.

“We’re really happy with the physical dimension we’ve added,” said Cahoon. “It’s going to allow us to hopefully control tighter areas better than last year.”

Scoring goals doesn’t always require a finesse move or a perfect shot. In fact, in most cases, it’s just the opposite. Ugly goals are a major part of hockey, and they result from displacing bodies and gaining position in critical areas of the ice.

With more experience and their newly-acquired strength, the Minutemen are confident they can keep up with Boston College, Boston University, New Hampshire and Maine, who are not only some of the best teams in Hockey East, but also in the nation.

“Last year it was a bumpy road,” said sophomore goaltender Jeff Teglia. “We were in every single game [except Merrimack]. We played every single top team tough a couple times. Some of our younger guys getting that experience is going to really help them. I’m really excited about our team and I think we can really step it up this year in the league.”

UMass was picked to finish seventh in the Hockey East preseason coaches’ poll, the same spot the team finished last year.

Although the Minutemen are optimistic that they can fare much better this year, it remains to be seen. After the conference-opening game against Northeastern on Oct. 7, UMass will play Bentley in a non-conference game before it takes on six consecutive conference opponents.

“There’s a lot to be measured,” Cahoon said. “We have to measure how much we’ve actually progressed before I can accurately [assess where we fit in Hockey East].”

“We’re going to be a team that attacks,” Cahoon added. “The Mass Attack is a cute little slogan, it’s a great thing and we created it and I think it is. But the truth of the matter is our team, with the way we can skate, has to have a competitive edge that says ‘we attack on offense, we attack on defense, we play hard.’”

Steve Levine can be reached at [email protected]