Winning in a tough road environment with something on the line is not just one of the most daunting obstacles to overcome in sports, but an obstacle that can define a team and its season.
For the Massachusetts hockey team, a pivotal road victory against the top team in the country couldn’t have come at a better time.
UMass (10-13-5, 6-11-4 Hockey East) used two power-play goals to edge No. 1 Boston University, 3-2, Friday night at Agganis Arena to secure its first true road victory this season. It’s also the first time the program has won a road game against a top-ranked team.
“Outside of a couple of close calls … I thought we did a real good job,” said UMass coach Don Cahoon in an interview with UMass Athletics following Friday’s victory. “We just had to kill a few more penalties to my liking …we did a great job at it, and got the type of goaltending that you need to win games like that.”
Before facing the Terriers, the Minutemen had just two victories away from the Mullins Center. The first came on Dec. 29 when they beat then-No. 13 Cornell, 5-2, in Estero, Fla. before claiming victory against Vermont at Fenway Park on Jan. 7, when UMass pulled out a 3-2 overtime thriller to take the season series against the Catamounts.
Friday’s victory isn’t the only time UMass has defeated a top-ranked team this year. Back on Nov. 5, the Minutemen outlasted then-No. 1 Boston College, 4-2, at home to clinch its third win over a No. 1-ranked team in the program’s history.
“[Friday’s win] was one of our most complete efforts this year,” said Cahoon. “It’s clearly our most complete effort on the road.”
Goalie carousel continues
Freshman Kevin Boyle is one of three goaltenders on the team vying to become a consistent starter.
Despite Saturday’s 5-4 loss at home to Providence, in which Boyle was pulled after two periods, the freshman has stepped up in monumental ways for the Minutemen this year as it transitions from an era where Paul Dainton started every game for four years, to a “goaltender by committee” situation.
Boyle has a majority of UMass’ key wins, starting in net on both occasions when the team has defeated No. 1-ranked BC and BU, as well as wins over Bentley and Cornell.
Boyle is 6-5-4 this year for the Minutemen, posting an .892 save percentage over 15 games played.
It’s evident based on the way Cahoon has used his goalies game-to-game this season that the carousel of starters will continue. However, Boyle has, for the most part, stepped up when the team has needed a stopper in net the most.
He’s helped the Minutemen to six of its 10 victories, while also helping them inch closer to a conference tournament berth.
The bottom line is Boyle is the hottest hand UMass has in net right now, and has been all season long. He gives them the best chance to win at this point in time, and every game counts now as the regular season winds down.
In order to take full reign of the position, he may just need to find a way to put together two or more consecutive and consistent starts.
Still in the hunt
With six conference games on the schedule this season, the Minutemen are hanging on for dear life as they chase down the top of the conference for a bid into the Hockey East tournament.
Only the top eight teams make the tournament, and currently UMass sits in the final spot, tied with Northeastern with 16 points.
UMass will be back in action on Friday when the Minutemen visit Maine.
Scott Cournoyer can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Cournoyer.