Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass opens five-game homestand with weekend series against Boston College, Vermont

By Ross Gienieczko

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Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian

(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

In the midst of its most important stretch of games in its 2015-16 campaign, the Massachusetts hockey team will launch a five-game homestand at Mullins Center Friday night, when the Minutemen host No. 4 Boston College.

UMass (7-12-4, 2-7-4 Hockey East) will also host Vermont Saturday night. But the most compelling matchup of the weekend is Friday night’s showdown with the Eagles (15-4-3, 8-1-3 HEA) when legendary BC coach Jerry York will have a chance to win the 1,000th game of his career.

The Eagles feature a potent offense in which five players have scored more than 20 points. Forwards Ryan Fitzgerald and Colin White are tied for the team lead in points with 28 each but are just two of many players who have played key roles in BC’s success this season. Teddy Doherty (eight goals, eight assists), Casey Fitzgerald and Ian McCoshen lead a strong defensive corps that is backstopped by one of the nation’s best goaltenders in Thatcher Demko.

The Eagles will try to give their coach his milestone win against UMass, who have lost four consecutive games and was swept by UMass Lowell last weekend while being outscored 9-1 in the two-game series.

The Minutemen enter Friday’s game led by senior forward Shane Walsh, who has scored a team-leading 15 goals this season and was recently nominated as one of 66 finalists for the Hobey Baker award.

On Tuesday Walsh said UMass was looking to break out of its losing streak against one of the nation’s top teams.

“The big thing for us is almost turning the page,” Walsh said. “I know the break already happened, but we’ve been going through a little tough patch here. We have to do our best to get refocused and face every game as a new game.”

As far as preparation for BC, Walsh specifically mentioned the Eagles’ power play as a catalyst for their success. With 20 goals in 22 games, BC is tied for eighth in the country in scoring on the man advantage.

“It’s really important to not make mistakes against them,” Walsh said. “If you put them on the power play, they’re going to take advantage of it.

With regards to the potential for a historic win for York, both Walsh and Minutemen coach John Micheletto praised the longtime Eagles leader but said UMass is focused on the two important Hockey East points on the line Friday night.

Showdown with the Catamounts

Despite all the fanfare surrounding its game against BC, UMass will have to regroup for a quick turnaround when it hosts Vermont Saturday night.

The Catamounts (9-14-2, 3-7-2 HEA) were in the Hockey East cellar at the beginning of the season, as they slumped to a 2-7-1 start to the season. Since then, however, they’ve rebounded with a competitive 7-7-1 run. But Vermont is still tied for eighth with the Minutemen and UNH.

Mario Puskarich is the Catamounts’ leading scorer with six goals and 14 assists on the year, while a goaltending duo of Mike Santaguida and Packy Munson have combined for all nine Vermont wins.

Heading into a weekend with two games against vastly different opponents, Micheletto said that Minutemen will have to focus on taking games two points at a time.

“You’re trying to focus in on not getting ahead of yourself other than the two points on the table,” Micheletto said.

Walsh also talked about the slow starts the Minutemen have suffered in a few games this season and said they were hoping to avoid similar letdowns early on in their next games.

“We need to stick to our game plan and be focused from the start,” Walsh said. “We’ve got in trouble a few games here and we’ve come out flat.”

Puck drop Friday night is set for 7 p.m. while Saturday’s game is also slated for a 7 p.m. start, barring cancellation due to snow.

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

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