UMass hockey faces toughest test yet in No. 3 BC

By Ross Gienieczko

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Shannon Broderick/ Daily Collegian

Shannon Broderick/ Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts hockey team suffered its first loss of the season Saturday, falling decisively to No. 13 Yale by a final score of 6-1.

The Minutemen won’t have much time to shake off the loss, as they’ll kick off a run of Hockey East conference play tonight when they travel to Chestnut Hill to face the toughest test of their season to date, No. 3 Boston College.

UMass (4-1-1, 0-0-1 HEA) had started the season with a team-record five-game unbeaten run before Saturday night’s loss to the Bulldogs. It came in the final round of the Capital City Classic in Trenton, New Jersey, a weekend tournament featuring Yale, Maine, Princeton and UMass. The Minutemen defeated the Black Bears 5-4 in overtime in the opening round Friday.

The Eagles (5-1, 0-0-0 HEA) enter tonight’s contest on a roll. BC has won its past four games, with three of those wins coming via shutout. Overall, the Eagles have outscored opponents 18-3 during the winning streak.

Led by sophomore goaltender Thatcher Demko, BC boasts the best scoring defense in the country, allowing just a single goal per game. Defensemen Ian McCoshen, Steve Santini, Scott Savage and Casey Fitzgerald all boast plus/minus rankings of +6 or better. Demko has shined in net for the Eagles, starting all six of their games, winning five and compiling a .958 save percentage.

Offensively, the Eagles have been impressive as well, scoring at a clip of four goals per game. They’ve had good balance up front, but are led by Miles Wood (two goals, six assists) as well as Zach Sanford and Austin Cangelosi (who share the team lead with four goals apiece).

By any possible measurement, BC is one of the best teams in college hockey, and the Eagles present a significant challenge for fourth-year coach John Micheletto and the Minutemen.

Just a few weeks ago, it would have been hard to imagine Tuesday night’s matchup being close. But UMass has been a much-improved team in the young 2015 season. BC is still a favorite, but the gap between the two sides might not be as wide as it’s been in recent seasons.

One area Micheletto said the team has improved in specifically was attention to detail.

“Well I think we’ve got greater attention to detail than we have in the past, although it’s not perfect or exactly where we need it to be to achieve all the goals that we want this year,” Micheletto said. “I think you’ve seen that against better competition, it’s about tending to the details more and more. If you’re inconsistent with that, you’re going to get inconsistent results.”

Micheletto also said the team’s defensive corps has been stronger this season, and said they were ready for a challenge like No. 3 BC.

“Based on the short track record that we’ve had, I think they’ve done a really good job of managing the defensive side of it, particularly getting us out of the zone when we need to get out of the zone,” Micheletto said. “If I were to give our defensive corps a grade so far, it would be pretty positive.”

Led by their top pairings of Ivan Chukarov and William Lagesson, as well as Ben Gallacher and Marc Hetnik (a Chestnut Hill native), the Minutemen have been better in all three zones to start the season. Some worrisome breakdowns have still occurred, but not at the alarming frequency that doomed past UMass teams.

They’ll have to play their best hockey to contain a quick and skilled Eagles forward group, one that’s even better than the New Hampshire attack that gave the Minutemen fits earlier in the season.

“The style of play that they play, they’re able to generate offense through transition and get good players into open ice,” Micheletto said.

Micheletto said defending BC would pose a challenge to his young team. But he also said the Eagles have some youth of their own that his skill players will look to take advantage of.

“They’ve got some young guys that we’re going to see if they can handle our speed and our offense as well,” Micheletto said.

Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. tonight at Conte Forum.

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