UMass hockey plays final two games of the season against No. 10 Providence

By Nick Souza

(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts hockey team’s season is winding down with just two games left before the Hockey East tournament begins. UMass (5-25-2, 3-12-1 HEA) will cap off the regular season with a home-and-home weekend series against No. 10 Providence.

Depending on how the final weekend of the regular season shakes out, the Friars (18-9-5, 10-7-3 HEA) could also be the Minutemen’s opponents in the opening round of the tournament.

However, the UMass coaching staff and players aren’t getting too far ahead of themselves.

“We’re focused on just playing on Friday first and foremost, but also Saturday,” Minutemen forward Austin Plevy said. “We want to play two good games. Obviously we know that playoffs are close, but if we end up playing them, whatever.”

This particular schedule of playing at home and in Providence on back-to-back nights carries the twist of playing on two very different sheets of ice. The Mullins Center is home to an Olympic-sized ice rink, while the Friars play on a smaller surface in Schneider Arena.

“The team we put on the ice right now actually plays better in a smaller sheet,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “It’s a quicker game and it’s a more physical game. It’s less of a puck control game; we’re not a good puck control team. It’s better for us to be in a rink where it’s easier for us to check and easier for us to get on top of the opposition.”

Unfortunately for an already ailing Minutemen offense that has struggled to find the scoring touch – averaging just 1.94 goals per game – Providence enters this weekend’s matchup boasting the third best scoring defense in the conference (2.34 goals allowed per game) – 12th best in the nation.

The Friars rely heavily on one goaltender to stand tall in the net behind their defense in sophomore Hayden Hawkey. Hawkey has started all 32 games in goal this season – one of only two goaltenders in the Hockey East to do so.

While accounting for 99.5 percent on the ice time in net – leading the conference – Hawkey has faced 807 shots on net this season. To put it in perspective, his counterpart Cal Petersen of Notre Dame (the other goaltender to start all 32 games) has faced 90 more shots this season, which is an average of roughly three more per game.

UMass assistant coach Jared DeMichiel offered some insight as to the affect of fewer shots on a goaltender.

“I would definitely say that the majority of goalies would rather face 30 plus shots in a game. It’s very difficult to face 15 or 20 some odd shots where you’re sitting back there and you’re getting tight with a lot of time to think to yourself. As a goalie it’s good to have to face a lot of shots, that way you’re always active.”

As a team, Providence has only given up 809 shots on goal this season, which tops the Hockey East in that category. While shots on net might be hard to come by, the Minutemen will have to make the most of the few opportunities they get and the potential lack of shots on net may actually play into UMass’ hands.

However, this makes one of the main points of emphasis this season of getting more shots on net for the Minutemen offense particularly difficult.

“They’re a defensive minded team,” Carvel said. “They block a lot of shots and they play well in the [defensive] zone preventing shots from getting to the net. They have a hard defensive style, but they’ve got a good skill level so it’s a good combination.”

“They protect their net, so you need to work as hard as possible to get to the net. You need to pay that price and get your nose dirty,” DeMichiel added. “If you have to ham and egg it to get it there then you’ve got to ham and egg it to get it there.”

Friday night’s puck drop is set for 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center, and Saturday is set for 7:05 p.m. in Providence.

Nicholas Souza can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @nicksouza27.