UMass hockey to face off against No. 3 Quinnipiac this weekend

By Jason Kates

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

So far this season, the Massachusetts hockey team has not fared well against some of the top teams in the country.

The Minutemen (6-3-4, 2-2-4 Hockey East) were routed by then-No. 13 Yale 6-1 on Oct. 31 in the championship game of the Capital City Classic. Three days later, UMass was run out of Kelley Rink after allowing a season-high seven goals in a 7-0 loss to then-No. 3 Boston College.

This weekend, the Minutemen will have another chance to prove they can skate with a top team when they face off against No. 3 Quinnipiac in a home-and-home nonconference series.

After picking up two Hockey East points on the road last weekend at New Hampshire and No. 13 Merrimack, UMass coach John Micheletto said the focus is on continuing to do the same things the team has been doing in conference play when they take on the Bobcats (11-0-2, 4-0-2 ECAC).

“Obviously they present a unique set of challenges,” Micheletto said. “They’re having a fantastic start to the year, they have a balanced attack of offense and defense and goaltending. We’re going to have our hands full, both at home Friday and Saturday afternoon at their place.”

UMass enters the series as the 13th best offensive team in the country (Quinnipiac is ranked sixth), while the Bobcats currently boast the fourth best defense. Averaging 3.38 goals per game, the Minutemen will be tasked with finding the back of the net against a team that has only given up 1.54 goals per game.

Led by senior goaltender Michael Garteig, Quinnipiac has shut out its opponent three times and has only given up more than two goals twice this season.

Micheletto acknowledged that against a team like the Bobcats, it’s rare that goals will come off clean first shots. He stressed the need for the Minutemen to cause trouble for Quinnipiac’s defense right in front of the net.

“Against good team defense and good goaltending, it’s about trying to get the puck on the inside and making sure that you’ve got presence at the net front that you can either influence the first shot in terms of whether the goalie can see it or not or finding that second or third one,” Micheletto said.

Perhaps the most important part of whether or not UMass will find success this weekend will be the play of the special teams units. With a 29.69 percent conversion rate, the Bobcats own the second best power play unit in the country. The Minutemen are not far behind, coming in at No. 13 with a 23.26 percent conversion rate.

Despite some early struggles in the beginning of the season, Micheletto recognized his team’s improvement on the penalty kill and knows keeping Quinnipiac to as few as possible opportunities will be the most important factor this weekend.

“Our discipline has been good, it’s been a focal point for us this year and I think guys have responded real well,” he said. “I think along with that our penalty kill has really improved as with any team having young guys learn a new system and see new power plays for the first time.”

He added: “I think we went through some early growing pains but over the last half dozen games I think it’s been very good.”

Although UMass has not fared well against the nation’s top teams this season, Micheletto believes the Minutemen can look at last weekend’s performance at Merrimack as a good building block for the future and heading into this weekend against the Bobcats.

“It’d be great,” he said when asked what a good showing this weekend would mean for his team. “Again, you’re looking to make progress, we want to be better this weekend than we were in the first weekend and we want to be better in the middle of February than we are today.

“Continuing that upward trend in terms of how well we can compete against teams that are ranked is how we’re trying to use this weekend,” he later added.

Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday night, with Saturday’s matinee set for 4 p.m.

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