Opportunity knocks for UMass hockey

By Jason Kates

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)
(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

With the regular season in the books, the Massachusetts hockey team will focus on the future matchup versus Notre Dame in the first round of the Hockey East tournament.

Thanks to a rule change to expand the conference playoff from eight teams to all 12, the Minutemen will enter a best-of-three series against the fifth-seeded Irish.

“The beauty of the ‘second season’ is that no matter what happened prior to it, it’s a one day at a time, one game at a time setup,” Coach John Micheletto said. “We’re eager to get on the attack Friday night and try to put our best foot forward towards getting a win.

“We know that it won’t be impossible to win the series if we don’t win Friday, but it makes your life a little bit easier if you can get that first one.”

Following a 4-0 defeat against Connecticut last Friday night, UMass was locked into last place and waited to see who it would face in the opening round of the tournament. For a while, it looked like the Minutemen would draw Northeastern and play the three-game series in Boston.

Instead, Notre Dame fell into the fifth seed, and UMass is now faced with traveling halfway across the country for a series in South Bend, Indiana. The Irish won both games against the Minutemen earlier this season.

“I think internally it’s less of an issue than the external perception,” Micheletto said. “It’s a great place to play, they treat you very well, I don’t think the rink dimensions or anything about the physical part of the layout is daunting for us.”

Most of the upperclassmen have already played at Compton Family Ice Arena. In a two-game road trip last season, the Minutemen split the series, winning the second game 3-2.

Micheletto believes this could provide a boost for his team.

“I think that’s valuable for the team in general, even though we have so many newcomers,” he said. “You know that from watching us over the course of the year that it tends to be more about us than who we’re playing, so if we can really focus on mustering all our energy and putting all of our focus towards attention to detail, we’re excited to play anybody.”

Sophomore Steven Iacobellis, who was on the team for last year’s heartbreaking first round defeat to Vermont, reiterated his coach’s words and the excitement for this weekend.

“Playoffs are always a new season, you leave the regular season behind and take all the positive things that you can moving forward,” he said. “We’re all excited, we like playing at (Notre Dame), I know we were there last year and had a strong showing, so we can’t wait.”

Regarding the transition to a three-game series, Iacobellis is pleased with the change, and feels it could be beneficial to the team’s success.

“I think we’re a team that gets better as the weekend goes on,” he said. “If we do have trouble early on, I think we’re a good enough team and smart enough to work through that and bounce back if we do have any things that go wrong.”

“If the second round is going to be best-of-three, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to go single-elimination, best-of-three, and then back to single-elimination,” Micheletto added. “The coaches voted unanimously for it to originally be a three-game series, and I certainly believe that’s the best way for team to showcase their abilities.”

UMass will get its chance Friday night, as a clean slate waits.

Jason Kates can be reached at [email protected] and followed @Jason_Kates.