The Massachusetts hockey team, currently riding a three-game losing skid, is looking to stop the bleeding Friday when they take on Harvard at the Mullins Center.
UMass (4-7-3, 2-6-3 Hockey East) returns home after a three-game road trip. Although the Minutemen are currently undefeated at home (4-0-2), they stand at the opposite side of the spectrum away from the Mullins Center, winless on the road (0-7-1).
Part of the problem for UMass has been its inability to score in recent games, netting just three goals in as many contests.
The issue is compounded by the fact that opponents have struck early, forcing the Minutemen to have to change their in-game strategy.
“It’s been pretty frustrating,” said senior forward T.J. Syner of the team’s recent scoring drought.
“Whenever you’re down a goal or two, you feel like you’re trying to play catch-up,” added Syner. “The key is definitely not to hit the panic button.”
Harvard (3-3-2, 2-3-2 Ivy League) holds the advantage handily all-time between both teams, posting an 8-1 record in nine games played, dating back to 1912. The Crimson won, 5-3, the last time the two met up in 2003. The lone victory for the Minutemen came in 1999, when they won, 4-2, at a neutral site. Harvard also holds the offensive advantage in the series, outscoring UMass 28-to-13.
Battle between the pipes
Prior to the season, UMass coach Don Cahoon had three goaltenders on the roster to choose from to man the net, all vying to shoot up the depth chart. After 14 games, Cahoon has yet to find one guy to take hold of the starter’s role.
Sophomore Jeff Teglia, who saw playing time in nine games last season, received the start in the last two contests. In those starts, Teglia has shown promise, keeping the Minutemen in games on the penalty kill while making crucial saves to bail out the defense on missed assignments. Unfortunately, Teglia allowed a combined six goals against Vermont and Quinnipiac, further opening the competition.
“I can’t really worry about (when I’m playing and when I’m sitting),” said Teglia. “When I’m called upon, I just have to step up and play, be big for the team.”
The sophomore was pulled from the Minutemen’s most recent outing against Quinnipiac after two frames in favor of freshman Steve Mastalerz, who blanked the Bobcats in the final period of play.
Mastalerz, who started the year with an injury, just recently returned in the last few weeks. Seeing action in five games (including three starts), Masterlerz is 1-1 with 11 goals against and a save percentage of .880.
The starting role may ultimately come down to the performance of freshman Kevin Boyle, who has shown that he’s capable of coming up in big spots, most notably in victories against Boston College and Northeastern.
Only time will tell whether one man can claim the No. 1 spot or if a goalie-by-committee will continue to be Cahoon’s strategy.
Syner and Sheary in midseason form
It’s been difficult for UMass to find bright spots during its recent slide except for Syner and sophomore forward Conor Sheary, who have been consistent offensive stalwarts throughout the season. Syner stepped up offensively for the Minutemen in the team’s 2-1 defeat on the road against Vermont on Nov. 22 when he cut the Catamounts’ lead to 2-1 with 2:29 left in the second period with his sixth goal of the season, scoring off a pass from Sheary. Syner also provided an assist in the Minutemen’s 4-2 loss against QU last Saturday.
Both Syner and Sheary should be recognized by everyone in the Hockey East for their performances. In 11 conference games, Syner and Sheary are each averaging 1.09 points per contest, tied for second place in conference play.
There’s no place like home
Despite the team’s present three-game slide, UMass is currently unbeaten at home, posting a 4-0-2 record.
Maybe a trip back to the Mullins Center is just what the doctor ordered.
“It will give the team confidence,” said Teglia. “Playing at home is always fun, we’ve had a great atmosphere all year… hopefully it gives us that extra confidence that puts up over the top.”
Scott Cournoyer can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @MDC_Cournoyer.