No 8. UMass to take on top-seeded Eagles in Hockey East Playoffs

By Scott Cournoyer

For six long months, the Massachusetts hockey team has grinded its way through the toughest collegiate conference in the country for a chance to make the postseason tournament.

This weekend will tell the tale of the season.

For the third consecutive year, the Minutemen (13-16-5, 9-14-4 Hockey East) are seeded No. 8 and will travel to Chestnut Hill, Mass. to take on No. 1 Boston College in a best-of-three series.

The first game of the series will take place Friday at 7 p.m. at Conte Forum.

The winner of the series will stay in Boston the following weekend to play in a conference semifinal game that Friday, followed by the championship game Saturday night.

The first round series will continue on Saturday and Sunday (if necessary), with start times slated for 7 p.m.

“Any time you make the playoffs, it’s a privilege,” said senior forward Danny Hobbs on the intense atompshere surrounding the postseason. “We went through a lot during the season, a lot of up and downs…we have a chance to prove ourselves, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

In the past two seasons, the Eagles (25-10-1, 19-7-1 HEA) swept both postseason series against UMass on their way to back-to-back conference championships. BC has won 11 conference titles in the program’s history, and the expectations this season are no lower than any other year. The crowd and atmosphere at Conte Forum should play a significant part in the game, and the Minutemen will need to combat it to come out as the victors.

“We just have to be consistent like we’ve shown in the past,” said Hobbs. “We’ve had leads and gave them up [and this time] we have to keep our foot on the pedal.”

Since being swept by Maine back on Jan. 20 and 21, the Eagles have won 11 consecutive games. For many reasons, BC has been able to figure out its shortfalls and finish the season strong.  One fact stands out above all else: Since their 4-3 overtime victory against New Hampshire on Jan. 27, the Eagles have not trailed in a game.

The Eagles certainly aren’t short on offensive talent, but the rising effort of the defense and goaltending over the last 11 games has propelled them back to the top of the conference standings.

Since losing his starting spot midseason, junior goaltender Parker Milner has regained his role as of late. Over the last 11 contests, Milner has posted a 1.16 goals-against average, while chalking up a .954 save percentage.

Regardless of how well BC has played in the past month, UMass coach Don Cahoon says his team is ready to play this weekend.

“[Our team] should know that we can skate with them and play with them,” said Cahoon on the team’s confidence going into the weekend. “The reason why [our players] played well over the last month is because they’ve have prepared themselves to play.”

Of the nine conference wins for UMass this year, two came against the top-seeded Eagles, including a 4-0 shutout back on Jan. 13 at the Mullins Center. It’s the first time since the ‘05-‘06 season that the Minutemen have taken a season series against BC.

“It’s a confidence booster for us,” said Hobbs. “Obviously it’s a different type of game in the playoffs, but it’s a confidence booster, knowing that we’ve had success this year against [BC].”

The typical No.1 vs. No. 8 tournament matchup in any year is expected to not be much of a contest. This season, things may be a little different.

Scott Cournoyer can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MDC_Cournoyer.