Rocco Carzo has had the same Thursday night routine on game weekends for the past three years.
He goes to Pasta E Basta with teammates Steven Guzzo, Adam Phillips and Joel Hanley, and orders chicken penne with vodka sauce. After his meal, he goes home, does his laundry then immerses himself in a horror movie from Redbox all by himself.
When that’s over, it’s gameday.
However, this Thursday could mark the final time Carzo has that experience as the Massachusetts hockey team plays its final two regular season games in a home-and-home with Merrimack one point behind Maine for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Hockey East standings.
The Minutemen (11-18-3, 8-15-2 HEA) may have more at stake, but the senior captain’s routine won’t change a bit.
“Obviously I’ll go through the same stuff during the week,” Carzo said. “I’ll do the same stuff, eat the same meal, I’ll do the same stuff on gameday, nothing special.
“It’s my last one, maybe. Hopefully not, so we’ll see.”
UMass put itself in a do-or-die situation after taking just one out of a possible four points at No. 5 New Hampshire last weekend. The Black Bears took three of a possible four against Northeastern, and now take their one-point advantage into Durham this weekend.
While Maine has the advantage over the Minutemen in the standings, UMass does hold the tiebreaker with more conference wins. But the task won’t be easy for either side.
The Warriors are in a fight for home-ice advantage, while the Wildcats are in position to win the Hockey East regular season championship with a pair of wins.
“Coming into the last weekend, everyone’s playing for something,” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “Whether it be for a title, home ice, to get into the playoffs or not be in the playoffs. So I think that’s been one of the good things historically about our league and what it does for your guys as they move up the ranks.”
For most teams, this would be a pressure situation. But the Minutemen have been through this each of the last three years now. And with 18 upperclassmen on the roster, this is nothing new for them.
Last season, UMass won on the second-to-last night of the season to clinch a playoff spot, which was against Merrimack on Senior Night.
“I think if it was something new to me as a senior it would’ve been kind of scary,” Kevin Czepiel said. “But having been through it we know what is expected. All we have to do is take care of ourselves.”
Actually, the Minutemen will need a little help from UNH as well, which means there will be plenty of scoreboard watching throughout the weekend. Director of Hockey Operations John Gobeil will be tracking the UNH-Maine game online while UMass is out on the ice, and will give updates to assistant coach Joey Gasparini via radio connection.
This will prepare Micheletto for any possible scenario this weekend.
It will only work in the Minutemen’s favor if they pick up points, meaning they must focus on their game and not try to change preparation because it’s a unique situation.
“I think it’s not trying to do too much,” Czepiel said. “We can’t go out there and try to win the game in the first two minutes. It’s gonna be a full 60 minutes and Merrimack’s a good team, especially in their rink, they play tough.”
UMass won’t be changing any of its weekly routines despite the circumstance both in practice and off the ice. This keeps players mentally rested and prevents them from overthinking.
This is especially important for a player such as Carzo, who could be entering the final weekend of his collegiate career. He wants to embrace his weekend routine as it draws to an end, but he’s also aware that he can’t change his approach to gameday.
“We’re obviously gonna have a lot going on with Senior Night, playoffs, everything going on,” Carzo said. “We just have to worry about the game and worry about it like it’s a normal game for us.”
Puck drop for Game 1 is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Lawler Arena on Friday, and the regular season closes at the Mullins Center at 7 p.m. Saturday on Senior Night.
Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.