UMass hockey preparing for Northeastern, UMass Lowell this weekend

By Cameron McDonough

James Jesson/Daily Collegian
James Jesson/Daily Collegian

Time is running out in the 2013-14 regular season for the Massachusetts hockey team, but there is still time for the Minutemen to achieve their goals.

While the ultimate goal of gaining one of the top five spots in the conference and subsequently a first round bye might be tough, there is still a very good chance that UMass could get a home game in the first round of the playoffs.

All that the Minutemen (7-16-4, 3-8-3 Hockey East) have to do is finish the season in spots six through eight in order for that goal to be reached. And right now, they are in a tie for eighth with Notre Dame at nine points in the league.

“We’re obviously trying to reach the highest standing we can,” said UMass coach John Micheletto. “I think we can say realistically, trying to look at six games for us and seven or eight games for some of the other teams left in the league, that we can certainly earn that first round home ice playoff game.”

He continued, “You’re gonna need a lot of help trying to fly up into one of the top five spots.”

The good thing for the Minutemen is that, in their coach’s eyes, they are playing a much better game, just in time for a playoff push.

“We feel like we’ve been playing pretty good hockey the last dozen games or so, and hopefully that puts us in the best spot to keep moving forward,” Micheletto said.

That’s a good thing for UMass, because its schedule will be tough down the stretch. First, the team will play at No. 11 Northeastern on Friday, then against No. 7 UMass Lowell on Saturday. Both of those teams are nationally ranked and sit in a tie for second place in the conference. The Minutemen will then have to play both teams again next weekend before finishing out the year against Providence, which is fifth in Hockey East.

UMass has played both the Huskies and River Hawks in a set of unusual nonconference games against a conference opponent already this season, but the results were far from satisfying.

The Minutemen seemed to have Northeastern (16-8-3, 8-5-1 HEA) right where they wanted on Jan. 4, but the team squandered a third period lead thanks to some untimely stick penalties.

“I think, although we didn’t win that non-league game we had about a month ago down at Matthews, we certainly have confidence the way we played and had a third period lead,” Micheletto said. “And if not for some undisciplined penalties in the third, we could’ve very easily won that game.

“So we know they’re gonna be difficult,” he added.

Those sort of penalties are “unacceptable” according to Micheletto and something he said he addressed with his team.

As for UMass Lowell (18-7-2, 8-4-1 HEA), it’s been a long time since the two teams squared off. It was the second game of the season for UMass back on Oct. 12, and the Minutemen ended up losing the game 5-2 on the road.

The River Hawks continue to give UMass a tough time, as they have won seven straight games against the Minutemen.

“They play very well on the wall and they get good goaltending,” Micheletto said when asked why UMass Lowell has dominated the season series between the two teams of late. “And we’re not right now finishing at a rate that we can. And whenever you’re playing against a team that is gonna play hard and keep the puck against the wall and then get fantastic goaltending, your results are not gonna be where you want them to be.”

Solid goaltending is something that both the River Hawks and Northeastern have relied on this year. UMass Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck and Doug Carr rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the conference in goals against, while the Huskies’ Clay Witt comes in at No. 4 in the league.

Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Northeastern on Friday and then at 6 p.m. against the River Hawks on Saturday at Mullins Center. Saturday’s game can be seen on NESN.

Cameron McDonough can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Cam_McDonough.