Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass hockey faced with its toughest task yet against New Hampshire

By Ross Gienieczko

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Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian

(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts hockey team could not have asked for a better start to the 2015 season. UMass (3-0-0) has outscored its opponents at a clip of 15-8, in its best start since the 2009 season. The Minutemen have also started to garner national attention at the individual and team level.

Although UMass has gotten off to a hot start, their early season schedule does warrant mentioning. Colorado College was swept again by UMass Lowell to bring its record to 0-4. Sacred Heart, though 1-1-1, is a team the Minutemen were favored to beat.

It’s not fair to penalize UMass for beating the opponents in front of them, but it’s also safe to say Friday’s matchup against New Hampshire will present the Minutemen with their biggest test of the young season.

The Wildcats (1-2) started the season with a definitive 7-3 win against American International, but have suffered two close defeats leading up to their trip to Amherst. A late rally against Saint Lawrence ended in a 3-2 overtime loss, and UNH surrendered the game-winning goal to Clarkson with under a minute left to play in a 4-3 defeat.

Despite their own unbeaten start, the Minutemen are not getting ahead of themselves. A determined group of upperclassmen and energetic group of younger players are working to make sure they take it one game at a time.

“Our returning guys I think have a requisite sized chip on their shoulder, and the new guys came here to make a difference,” UMass coach John Micheletto said after practice on Tuesday. “I think they feel good about what we’ve accomplished so far, but know we have a long way to go, too.”

Sophomore center and Hockey East Player of the Week Dennis Kravchenko said the team was putting in the effort and staying focused.

“We’re taking care of the video time, the practice time and working on the things we need to work on in games that we aren’t doing well enough,” Kravchenko said.

In UNH, the Minutemen will face a team they’re 1-3 against in the past two seasons, and Micheletto praised their coaching and preparation.

“They’re always well coached. I have a lot of respect for the job that coach (Dick) Umile does. Guys are always very well prepared. They play in transition offensively very, very well,” Micheletto said.

The Wildcats are led by junior forward Tyler Kelleher, who scored 42 points in 39 games last season, and goaltender Danny Tirone, who was 14-6 with a .924 save percentage. This year, Kelleher has four points through the first three games, while Tirone has started all of them in goal.

UMass will look for more strong offensive performances from players like Kravchenko and freshman forward Austin Plevy. Senior Shane Walsh is also off to a quick start, and UMass is hoping to see its excellent offensive start to continue.

“We’re getting great defense which leads to even better offense,” Kravchenko said. “We have a lot of offensive power this year. Guys are doing the right things in all three zones, and it’s leading to goals.”

The team is has also benefited from better goaltending after a shaky year in net last season. Sophomore Henry Dill is 2-0 with a .938 save percentage, and freshman Nic Renyard is 1-0 with an identical .938 mark.

The numbers have been good, and the wins have been there as well. But the Minutemen will be opening Hockey East play Friday night, and the Wildcats represent a step up in competition from the teams they have faced so far. UNH will be motivated after two close losses, and it should be a competitive game between the Hockey East foes.

Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

Ross Gienieczko can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @RossGien.

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