UMass hockey fights for position in standings versus BU

By Nick Canelas

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Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

It’s there every time the Massachusetts hockey team steps into the locker room. Before and after every practice, every meeting and every game, it stares the Minutemen right in the face.

Hanging there is a bulletin board. And on it are the Hockey East standings.

As UMass prepares for its matchup with Boston University this week, the team knows exactly where it stands: Ninth place—five points out of a first-round bye, one point out of a home seed in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament and just two points ahead of last-place Merrimack.

With the standings tight and seven regular season games left, the Minutemen have time to gain some ground. But the pressure and urgency increases with each game.

“Whenever you get dressed, you can see it,” co-captain Troy Power said of the standings. “You walk by it, you know where you stand. We know we need a big push these last seven games.”

UMass (7-16-3, 3-8-2 Hockey East) is coming off a disappointing loss to the lowly Warriors on Saturday night. Fortunately for the Minutemen, the Terriers have fared no better.

BU (8-14-2, 3-8-1 HEA) sits one point behind UMass at No. 10 in the standings under first-year coach David Quinn, and has won just one game since December.

While that certainly makes the Terriers more beatable than in recent years, it also makes a letdown that much more costly. BU won the first meeting 3-1 in the season opener on Oct. 11 and still has a game in hand.

Friday is the Minutemen’s only game this weekend, so a loss would surely lead to a major slip in the standings, and their goals are much higher than the ninth or 10th seed.

“If we could sneak into the top five with a good run, that’s obviously what we’d want to do,” Power said. “But if that doesn’t happen, a one-game playoff at the Mullins Center—I think we’ll get a good turnout there. I think this place will be rocking and I think it would be really hard for us to lose that game at home.

“We want to get a home series, at worst a home game,” Power continued. “If you can win that three-game series and you get to the Garden, anything can happen. … The possibilities are endless.”

UMass’ upperclassmen have been in this scenario multiple times. Each year, it seems the Minutemen are fighting until the last weekend for a spot in the postseason.

With each team qualifying for the Hockey East Tournament this season, the situation is different. But the magnitude of each game hasn’t changed, especially for the freshmen getting their first taste of a run toward the playoffs.

“We’ve got all Hockey East games now, and the coaches are looking for a little more out of us,” said Steven Iacobellis, who leads all UMass freshmen with 10 goals. “As freshmen, we can’t go into the game thinking, ‘I’m new, I don’t know the system, I don’t know what we’re doing,’ and hoping for the best. We’ve been here long enough. There’s no excuses anymore.”

Olympic Celebration and Bright Out Night

Besides the actual game, Friday will also be the Olympic Celebration and Bright Out Night. A UMass hockey Olympians banner will be unveiled in the Mullins Center rafters, featuring the four former players who have participated or will participate in the Olympics. The names include John Lyons, Justin McCarthy and Jonathan Quick for Team USA, and Thomas Pock, who will play for Team Austria in next month’s games.

The first 2,000 fans in attendance will receive free T-shirts as well.

Given these circumstances, along with the fact that the game will be televised on NBC Sports Network, a big crowd is expected, which is good news for the Minutemen.

“I’d be surprised if a lot of students didn’t show up,” Power said. “Usually when we play BU, it’s always a great turnout.

“That’s something we’re excited for. With all the energy in our building from the students, and the support from the community is honestly second-to-none and really gives us a boost.”

UMass coach John Micheletto also noted the impact that a good crowd can have.

“You notice the groundswell of emotion at certain times when you really need it,” he said. “It helps. … When you don’t have that, you have to manufacture your own energy on the bench, and you need that. It’s an emotional game. If you don’t have energy, you’re gonna be in a bad spot.”

Puck drop for Friday’s game is at 7:30 p.m. at Mullins Center.

Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.