Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass hockey set for pair of Hockey East matchups starting Friday

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian
Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts hockey team is gearing up for a pair of Hockey East matchups this weekend, but not in the traditional home-and-home format.

The Minutemen will take on No. 14 Merrimack at the Mullins Center Friday night before heading to Burlington, Vermont for a Sunday afternoon matchup with Vermont.

But for UMass (6-2-1, 2-1-1 Hockey East), all the focus is on Friday night’s home showdown with the Warriors.

“We like to take it one game at a time,” Hockey East rookie of the week and Minutemen forward Austin Plevy said.

Coach John Micheletto elaborated.

“All of our focus and prep is leading into Friday night’s game, and we’ll do whatever we need to do come Saturday morning in preparation to get on the bus and head up to Vermont for Sunday’s game,” Micheletto said.

Plevy, who skates on the first line with sophomores Dennis Kravchenko and Dominic Trento, earned his rookie of the week honors after a two-goal, two-assist weekend in UMass’ sweep of Connecticut. Ironically, the Huskies featured Hockey East rookie of the month in freshman forward Max Letunov, but it was Plevy who took home the hardware in their meeting.

But as usual, he deflected any individual attention brought by the award.

“It was cool I guess,” Plevy said. “I don’t look too much into that stuff… the most important thing was winning those two games.”

He’s part of a group of Minutemen forwards that’s been fast and opportunistic this season. UMass is averaging four goals per game to start the year, and it’s needed every one of them, as the Minutemen are also allowing opponents to score at an identical rate.

The Minutemen will face a tough challenge Friday night against nationally-ranked Merrimack (5-1-2, 1-1-2 HEA). The No. 14 Warriors might not be in the same class as the Boston College or Yale teams that beat UMass by a combined 13-1 margin, but it’s a step up in competition from UConn, and the Warriors have played some tough opponents early in their conference schedule. Merrimack beat No. 8 Boston University 4-3 and earned a pair of ties against No. 7 UMass-Lowell.

The Warriors are led in scoring by senior Ben Bahe (four goals, six assists), but three other players have eight points on the season, and Merrimack trots out seven players with at least five points.

In goal, sophomore Collin Delia has been a workhorse for the Warriors, starting all eight games they’ve played while notching a 1.73 goals against average and .924 save percentage.

Heading into the matchup, both Micheletto and captain Steven Iacobellis praised Merrimack and were bracing for another quality conference opponent.

“They’re a good team, a hardworking team and they’re well coached,” Iacobellis said.

“We know that Merrimack has always given us a tough fight,” Micheletto added.

Friday night will also mark the debut of the UMass hockey band. Athletic Director Ryan Bamford found a way to bring the band into the Mullins Center, and the result should be an energetic atmosphere similar to other Hockey East arenas that feature bands.

“Our faithful have been loud and really noticeable here,” Micheletto said. “I’m anticipating the band is going to add to the atmosphere and the experience both for our players as well as the crowd.”

Friday’s puck drop is set for 7 p.m.

Sunday afternoon matchup set with Catamounts

The Minutemen’s Sunday matinee with the Catamounts at Gutterson Fieldhouse will start at 2 p.m.

Gutterson has surprisingly been a house of horrors for Vermont so far this season, as it’s 0-6-1 at home this season. Overall, Vermont is 2-6-1 and 1-2-1 in Hockey East play.

Although they’re struggling to start the season, the Catamounts have traditionally been a tough matchup for UMass. They knocked the Minutemen out of the Hockey East tournament in 2013-14 and handed UMass an embarrassing 11-1 defeat at Mullins Center last season.

Offensively, Vermont is led by high-scoring forward Mario Puskarich, who leads the team with nine points (four goals, five assists). Mike Santaguida has started all nine games in net and sports a .907 save percentage.

The Catamounts will host UConn Friday night before Sunday’s matinee against the Minutemen.

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

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