UMass hockey looks to build momentum against UNH in weekend series

By Anthony Chiusano

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts hockey team looks to move up in the conference standings this weekend in its return to Hockey East play against New Hampshire.

Currently situated in last place, UMass (6-15-0, 1-10-0 Hockey East) prepares for a two-game set against a Wildcats’ team that has won three of their last five games, including a 2-1 victory over No. 14 Providence on Tuesday.

But despite its recent success, UNH (7-11-2, 2-5-1 Hockey East) remains in 10th place in the conference and only three points ahead of the Minutemen. According to junior Shane Walsh, this proximity in the standings presents an important chance for UMass to begin its ascension.

“Any Hockey East game is significant,” Walsh said. “But especially against a team that is down there with us, we’re trying to move up in the standings and this weekend is a good opportunity for that.”

The Minutemen are coming off a two-game split at home last weekend against Maine in a rare nonconference series with the Black Bears. While Saturday’s matchup ended with a 3-0 defeat, UMass found success in Friday’s affair in a 3-2 comeback victory.

The win was catalyzed by the forwards line of Troy Power, Steven Iacobellis and Walsh, who combined for all three goals including Walsh’s game-winner with two minutes, 58 seconds left in regulation.

Playing on the same line for the past five games, Minutemen coach John Micheletto said the tandem’s chemistry against Maine should translate to continued success against the Wildcats.

“I think with those guys, the communication is so good on the ice as well as when they get to the bench,” Micheletto said. “That’s been able to give them an opportunity to gel quickly and figure things out and I think you saw the byproduct of that Friday night when they were able to take pucks away and be able to play in transition.”

In particular, Micheletto pointed out the play of Walsh – whose first multi-goal game of his career Friday night notched him Hockey East Player of the Week honors. The junior tied his personal best in points (11) and now has a career-high five goals this season.

“It’s just about going out there and playing hard every shift,” Walsh said. “I think this year I’ve gone back to a lot of the things I wanted to get back to as far as how I’m playing.”

“The success that has come has been nice but as a team we’ve also been playing a lot better and that’s what is important in the end.”

Another bright spot for UMass last weekend was freshman goaltender Henry Dill. He rebounded against the Black Bears after struggling for the better part of two months, finishing with 35 and 34 saves in his two starts.

“He’s been very sharp since coming back from the break and has given us the opportunity to win games,” Micheletto said. “That relationship between him being focused and sharp and our play in front of his goaltending has gotten much better.”

Micheletto said that this defensive play in front of the net has seen stark improvement since returning from winter break, notably in eliminating opportunities from close range and forcing tougher shot selections.

The result of these defensive improvements have been almost two fewer goals per game conceded by the Minutemen in their five games since resuming their schedule.

“Our zone coverage has been better and the amount of opportunities that we’ve given up are more from the perimeter than in the critical area which is really important,” Micheletto said. “That allows (Dill) to see the puck and make the save.”

Micheletto said that defensive stability has also allowed UMass to remain competitive and focused for a full 60 minutes, which posed a problem for the Minutemen late in games during the first half of the season.

“I think it’s just a natural progression of our maturation of the game,” Micheletto said. “We are able to rein momentum back in and even when teams get a little bit of momentum, it’s maybe not as lopsided as it was in the early part of the year.”

UMass will host UNH Friday at 7 p.m. for the first leg of a home-and-home series. The Minutemen then travel to Durham, New Hampshire for Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. matchup.

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.