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UMass hockey looks to turn around recent slump against Arizona State over weekend

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(Sam Anderson/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts hockey team has gone through a bit of a rough patch in its past three games. Following a game in which Notre Dame shut the Minutemen out at home on Dec. 3, UMass (4-10-2, 2-7-1 Hockey East Association) has lost back-to-back games on the road: 3-1 at Connecticut (Dec. 9)  and 4-3 at Princeton (Tuesday).

Before these previous three games, the Minutemen had a stretch of games were the improvements of the new coaching staff headed by first-year coach Greg Carvel had started to show as the team went 2-3-2 over seven games – which includes tying at the time-No. 19 Saint Lawrence and a victory against No. 12 Notre Dame.

Now UMass has one last chance to right the ship before campus vacates for winter break this weekend as it hosts Arizona State both Friday and Saturday night at Mullins Center.

With these games being two of only five non-conference games left on the schedule, it would appear that this weekend’s games against ASU (5-13-0) could be a vital opportunity the Minutemen to work out the kinks in their game.

However, Carvel is not getting caught up in whether the non-conference nature of these games affects their importance.

“They’re all important,” Carvel said. “We have to use every game as an opportunity to grow as a team, and we are growing. It’s not like we’re banging our heads against the wall not knowing what it is we have to do to win games.”

Team growth has been a major theme this season for Carvel and UMass, and growing a culture of winning been a mission in this rebuilding process.

The Sun Devils will arrive Friday as a team that has had its fair share of struggles as well, and it could be a chance for the Minutemen to build momentum before a nearly two-week layoff until the Mariucci Classic, which starts on Dec. 30.

“We’re going to use these games as an opportunity to see what we can learn about ourselves as a team and which areas we can grow in as a team,” Carvel said. “We certainly found a few areas we need to work on [against Princeton].”

One area in particular that has been a bit of an adventure for UMass in recent games has been its offensive production. The Minutemen went from a season high five goals in their last win over the Fighting Irish Dec. 2, to only scoring one goal in the next two games combined (losses to Notre Dame and the Huskies). On Tuesday, UMass seemed to have found its scoring stroke again with three goals in a loss to the Tigers.

ASU comes into this weekend’s games struggling on the defensive end, which could provide an ample opportunity for the Minutemen to build confidence on offense. The Sun Devils have allowed twice as many goals per game as they have scored (2.4 goals per game compared to 4.8 goals allowed per game).

“The offense is an area we need to work on,” Carvel said. “We’ve been putting a focus on getting more pucks to the net and we need to get more bodies to the net as well.”

On the defensive side for UMass, ASU doesn’t present the same challenge as a Hockey East opponent might with NHL caliber talent. The Sun Devils rely on more team-wide scoring, but doesn’t really have that star caliber player.

The leading scorer for ASU is forward Robbie Baillargeon who has accumulated 15 points on the season (eight goals, seven assists), and the Sun Devils offer a scarce few scoring threats beyond him.

Puck drop for both Friday and Saturday’s matchups are scheduled for 7 p.m. at Mullins Center.

Nicholas Souza can be reached at njsouza@umass.edu and on Twitter @nicksouza27.

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