UMass hockey looks to end road trip on a high note with weekend series against Maine

By Jason Kates

(Alec Zabrecky /Daily Collegian)
(Alec Zabrecky /Daily Collegian)

Orono, Maine is the last stop for the Massachusetts hockey team before heading home.

A two-game series versus the University of Maine will have the Minutemen (2-3, 1-2 Hockey East) looking to earn crucial points in another early season Hockey East showdown.

Having already faced top-tier conference opponents Boston University, Boston College and Northeastern, the Black Bears will be another early test for head coach John Micheletto and the rest of the Minutemen.

Micheletto said these two games will determine his thoughts about the young season, but he isn’t looking to far ahead into the future..

“I’ll let you know how I feel on Saturday night at 10 p.m.,” he said prior to Wednesday’s practice. “Hopefully we continue the progress that we’ve made in the early going and have a good showing and give ourselves an opportunity to take points on the road.

“If that happens then we feel good about what we did over 120 minutes and we’ll close out the road stand on a positive.”

Senior defender Mike Busillo knows the importance of getting positive results on the road, and is looking forward to getting back to playing games in the Mullins Center.

“It feels good to be coming home, but it’s been fun going on the road with all the guys and getting to know each other better,” said Busillo. “So far we’ve been playing pretty well and obviously wish we could’ve gotten some more wins, but it’ll definitely feel good to be home next week.”

Like Busillo, junior Shane Walsh believes this road trip has been a great bonding experience with the team, especially for the freshmen.

“It was a time where we could bond and get closer as a team, but this weekend will be exciting and hopefully we come back with four points.”

Bouncing back after a 4-1 road loss against fifth ranked Boston College last Saturday will be critical for the Minutemen, going up against a Maine team that has not gotten off to a great start. Going into the weekend, the Black Bears are 1-4-1, with this pair of games being their first Hockey East action.

Busillo said limiting Maine’s attack will play a deciding role over the weekend, especially with the opponents coming off a two-game series versus Alaska-Anchorage where they registered a staggering 88 shots.

“We’ll look to go hard at them so hopefully they’ll be shut down before they enter the zone with our back checks being important,” Busillo said. “Limiting all of their shots through the middle will also play a big part.”

Entering the game, UMass has won 54.5 percent of their faceoffs, which puts itself at ninth best in the nation and second best in the conference behind Notre Dame, which owns a 56.4 winning percentage.

Walsh, who scored the lone goal in the loss to the Eagles, leads the Minutemen in faceoffs with a 59.7 percent success rate. When asked how time of possession will play into the outcomes this weekend, he emphasized the importance of winning the draws and getting the majority of the scoring chances.

“With Alfond Area being a smaller rink, it’s going to be a hostile environment. The more we manage and possess the puck, the better we’ll be. Playing it safe, getting the pucks in when we need to and getting pucks out will be critical as well.”

Sophomores Cam Brown and Blaine Byron, who have six and four points, respectively, lead the Black Bears offensive attack. Micheletto said limiting their chances and focusing on keeping them out of the zone will be critical to UMass’ success.

“We have to keep them to the outside. Clearly they’re built to take the corners off the rush and they crash the net hard inside the dots, so we’re going to have to stand strong and create a perimeter around our goaltender so they don’t get those second or third opportunities.

“Special teams and time of possession will no question be a major factor. Faceoffs are a big part of both of those components, so making sure that we’re winning pucks and possessing on the powerplay is going to be a big part of it.”

Jason Kates can be reached at [email protected]