UMass hockey set for weekend series against No. 20 Notre Dame

By Ross Gienieczko

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

Although it’s not totally indicative of its performance over the last few weeks, it’s been a long time since the Massachusetts hockey team put a win on the scoreboard. In fact, the Minutemen are in danger of going a whole calendar month without a victory, as their last win came against Connecticut on Nov. 7.

They’ll have two more cracks at it this weekend, as UMass (6-5-4, 2-2-2 Hockey East) will head to South Bend, Indiana, for a two-game series against No. 20 Notre Dame.

To get any points against the Fighting Irish (6-4-4, 3-1-2 HEA), the Minutemen will need to find the scoring touch they opened the season with, the same one that’s mostly deserted them during an 0-3-3 stretch.

“We’re in a little slump here as far as scoring the last couple of games,” senior forward Shane Walsh said. “But we all know the kind of talent we have in the room, and I think the goals will start coming as long as we’re shooting the puck.”

Captain Steven Iacobellis echoed similar thoughts.

“The last seven or eight games, we’ve done a good job keeping the puck out of our zone and out of our net,” Iacobellis said. “Now it’s just putting the puck in. It’s on the top six, for sure.”

After starting the season on a blistering offensive pace, UMass has fallen back to earth during its six-game winless stretch. After averaging four goals per game through their first nine, the Minutemen have scored just 1.5 goals per game over their last six.

Coach John Micheletto said there were several reasons for the offensive drought. He noted that defenses and goaltending tend to improve as the season goes along, but also said UMass needed to be a bit more decisive with the puck in the offensive zone.

“I think it’s taken us a split second too long to get rid of pucks off of our sticks. We’re having a lot more blocked recently than we were in the early part of the year,” Micheletto said. “We just need to quicken up and have more of a shooters mentality. … It should be on our stick with a purpose.”

The Minutemen will be tasked with beating Notre Dame goaltender Cal Petersen, who’s had historic success against UMass in the past. In game one of their Hockey East tournament opening round series last year, Petersen set the NCAA record for saves in a single game in the five-overtime marathon, making 87 of them in what was eventually a 4-3 victory for UMass.

He was finally beaten by Walsh in the fifth overtime, part of Walsh’s scoring outburst that lasted the entire second half of the 2014-2015 season. This year, Walsh has picked up right where he left off, leading the team with nine goals in 15 appearances.

Walsh said there were some good memories of his overtime game-winner, but felt the team has unfinished business with the Irish after the Minutemen lost the next two games and were eliminated from the conference tournament.

“Obviously, we think we owe these guys a little bit after last year in the playoffs,” Walsh said.

Notre Dame is led by a deep group of forwards and feature 10 multi-goal scorers overall. Thomas DiPauli (six goals, seven assists) and Jake Evans (2-11) lead the team with 13 points apiece, followed closely by Anders Bjork (3-9) and Steven Fogarty (4-6).

Micheletto said he had a lot of respect for the Irish, and noted the adjustments they’ve made since joining Hockey East a few seasons ago.

“I like the way they play,” Micheletto said. “I think it’ll be a good matchup. They like to play fast… They play a lot more up tempo than they did before coming to our league.”

The two games against Notre Dame represent crucial Hockey East points up for grabs. UMass is currently tied with the Irish for third place in the conference (along with Boston University and Merrimack) with eight points. But only three points separate the teams from ninth-place New Hampshire.

“You play in Hockey East, you’re playing against the best competition in the country,” Walsh said. “Every weekend is a grind; every team you play is a good team.”

Puck drop on Friday night in the series opener is set for 7:35 p.m., with game two on Saturday starting at 6:05 p.m. Friday night’s game will be available for streaming on the NBC Sports Live extra app, while Saturday night’s contest will be nationally televised on NBCSN.

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