UMass hockey heads to Boston University for the first round of the Hockey East Tournament

By Jason Kates

Makoto Yabusaki/Daily Collegian
(Makoto Yabusaki/Daily Collegian)

The Hockey East conference tournament signifies a fresh start. Every team makes it, giving teams that have not performed well in the regular season the chance to earn some redemption.

This is especially true for the Massachusetts hockey team.

After going 0-15-3 in their last 18 conference games, the Minutemen (8-22-4, 2-16-4 HEA) will have the opportunity to forget about their struggles in the second half of the season and focus on making some noise when they travel to No. 9 Boston University in the first round of the Hockey East tournament.

UMass coach John Micheletto said the entire team from top to bottom is anxious to make the regular season a thing of the past.

“I think all of the guys as well as the coaching staff are eager to attack the postseason with a renewed energy and excitement of hopefully getting back to the promise of what the first half of the year showed,” Micheletto said Tuesday on the Hockey East conference call.

“The playoffs are always the ultimate reset button. You do have to live in the moment and with our first round of the playoffs being a three-game series it’s not the same survive and advance mentality, per se, as a one and done situation,” Micheletto continued.

Micheletto hopes his guys can focus on the things the Minutemen did well in the beginning of the season when they started off 6-2-1. For him, it’s an easy message to deliver when the capability of the team is clear.

“From our guys’ perspective, it’s about making sure that we’re as well prepared this week to give our best performance on Friday night without hanging on to any of the baggage that might be associated with the second half of the year,” Micheletto said. “I think the guys certainly saw what they’re capable of when healthy, and we’re moving in the right direction not that long ago.”

This weekend won’t be easy though, as the Terriers (19-10-5, 12-6-4 HEA) have already beaten UMass twice by a combined score of 13-5.

BU enters the weekend after narrowly missing out on a bye, finishing tied with UMass-Lowell for fourth with 28 points, however lost the tiebreaker to the River Hawks. Despite this, Terriers coach Dave Quinn acknowledged the importance of looking at the big picture of getting another weekend to play hockey.

“Obviously we’re a little disappointed we didn’t get a bye, but that was the first reaction after we lost on Saturday night. Everyone would like to have a weekend off this time of year,” Quinn said. “But there’s also the challenge when you do have a weekend off of trying to figure out the best way to prepare and keep the team sharp.”

Quinn added: “After the team subsided through Sunday and into yesterday, our guys were excited to play this weekend. It’s an opportunity to continue to play hockey the best time of the year.”

In their recent matchup against BU on Feb. 5, the Terriers blitzed the Minutemen for a four-goal opening period. Micheletto referred to the first time the two teams met on Jan. 9 as a better game for his team to look to.

“The first 35 minutes of that game were as good as we played, we scored first and had some really good segments of that game where are team speed was utilized to our advantage and kept the momentum in our favor,” Micheletto said.

“Unfortunately the second game here I think they scored on two of their first three shots and that puts us in a bad hole right away, you can’t chase the game against a team like that,“ Micheletto said.

Admitting that the puck bounces were going the right way in the last meeting, Quinn knows it will be important for BU to stick to its game plan, including defending better and improvement when pursuing the puck.

“Our key is just going to be to continue to do the things we’ve done over the second half that’s allowed us to have success,” Quinn said. “Sean (Maguire) has been immense in net, so we’re just going to have to continue to do the things that have allowed us to have a better second half.”

Quinn also praised UMass despite its record.

“From a win-loss standpoint, it’s been a tough go for them, but they’re a team that if you give them life they can kill you, they can really hurt you from an offensive standpoint,” Quinn said.

“They have a great transition game, some dangerous forwards, and we’re going to have to play a really responsible hockey game against them,” he continued.

In a series where the Minutemen will be heavy underdogs, Micheletto said his team plans to embrace the role once the puck is dropped Friday night.

“That’s always a part of it when you’re in a situation like we’re in right now,” he said. “You’ve got to embrace that role and make people believers. It’s a simple concept and no other way to attack it when you’re playing a team like BU.”

Puck drop for game one is set for 7:30 p.m. at Agganis Arena on Friday night.

Jason Kates can be reached at [email protected] and followed @JKates1216.