The race to the finish, or in this case the semester break, is on for the Massachusetts hockey team.
With only five games remaining until UMass (5-6, 2-3-0 Hockey East Association) enters its 26-day layoff, the push to finish out the first half of the 2017-18 campaign on a high note begins with the Minutemen’s home-and-home with Quinnipiac, starting this Friday.
“I think we’ll be ready and excited to play,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “They’re a really good opponent who has done well against our league.
The Bobcats (5-5-1, 2-4-0 Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference) have indeed fared well this season as they have gone 3-1-1 against their Hockey East foes, with their only loss coming in a 3-2 overtime loss vs. Boston University on Oct. 8. Quinnipiac swept Northeastern Oct. 20 and 21, beat Vermont 3-2 a week before and tied Boston College 1-1 two days prior to its loss to the Terriers.
The Minutemen enter the two-game set following their surprise split with No. 10 Providence two weeks ago, and sit ninth in the Hockey East standings.
Oliver Chau ranks first among UMass point-getters with 10 (four goals, six assists) through 11 games with John Leonard close behind with nine points in seven games played this year.
Freshman Odeen Tufto is the Bobcats’ leading man, producing 12 points (three goals, nine assists) in 11 games for QU.
“We really don’t focus on individuals,” Carvel said when asked if his team will have to be conscientious of Tufto whenever he’s on the ice. “They’re a well-coached team…it’s hard to tell which line is their fourth line.”
Defenseman Chase Priskie and forward Tanner MacMaster round out the top three statistical leaders, each recording nine points.
Bobcat goaltender Andrew Shortridge has been lights out recently, recording consecutive shutouts in QU’s 5-0 win over Brown and 3-0 victory against Yale last weekend.
The sophomore has a .925 save percentage and a 1.84 goals against average in nine games played for the Bobcats.
Leonard and Jake Gaudet made their return to the Minutemen lineup against the Friars a couple weeks ago after both dealt with separate injuries, and the freshmen should be back for this critical pair with QU.
Both squads have about the same offensive output over the first month and a half of play with UMass averaging 2.7 goals per game, while the Bobcats netted 2.64 per contest. QU holds the advantage in the shot department though averaging 32.8 a game with the Minutemen falling just short with 27.6 shots per game.
Neither club’s power play has been all that great to this point as UMass has only managed seven goals on 49 total chances (14.3 percent) which is only slightly worse than the Bobcats’ 17 percent (7-for-40) man-advantage percentage.
“It’s going to be a statement game for us,” said Carvel. “Last year we went in and competed hard but they found a way to win.”
In the two teams’ only matchup of the 2016-17 season QU squeaked out a 3-2 victory on Oct. 25. The Minutemen tied the game 2-2 midway into the second period, but MacMaster potted the game-winner in the final frame to edge past UMass.
It’s unclear who’ll get the start in the Minutemen net Friday as Carvel is still unsure how he’ll use both Ryan Wischow and Matt Murray this weekend.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. at High Point Solutions Arena in Hamden, Friday.
Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.