Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass hockey returns home to battle juggernaut Northeastern squad

(Caroline O’Connor/Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts hockey team returns to the Mullins Center Friday night to kick off a home-and-home series against No. 8 Northeastern.

Posting a 2-4-1 record during an extensive seven-game road trip that stretched through the semester break, UMass (10-10-1, 4-6-1 Hockey East Association) will play on its home ice for the first time since the Minutemen beat Connecticut 4-2 on Dec. 1.

Across the sheet, the Huskies (14-5-3, 10-3-1 HEA) are playing their best hockey of the season right now, having not lost a game since their 4-1 defeat at UCONN Nov. 28. Since then, Northeastern has gone on an impressive 7-0-2 run, while outscoring their opponents 34-16 in that stretch.

Forwards Adam Gaudette and Dylan Sikura have been potent all year for the Huskies, and are two of the top point producers in all of Division I college hockey.

Gaudette, a junior, currently leads the nation in points with 35 and his 17 goals puts him in a three-way tie for second place in the country. Sikura is just a peg below with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in a tremendous senior campaign for the Northeastern assistant captain.

“Those two kids are very hard to neutralize,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “We have to stress how hard we play [while] trying to prepare against our opponent.”

Huskie captain Nolan Stevens is no player to scoff at as well, as his 13 goals and 22 points puts him with the third-most points among Northeastern skaters.

On the Minutemen side, freshman Oliver Chau remains UMass’ goal (eight) and point leader (18) through 21 games, with Mitchell Chaffee and John Leonard (14 points each) not too far behind. Cale Makar is the Minutemen’s highest scoring defenseman with 13 points (three goals, 10 assists).

Sophomore Niko Hildenbrand has the hottest stick for UMass as the winger has tallied points in every game of the second half of the season—five games—including two goals in the Minutemen’s 6-3 win at Vermont Jan. 13, bringing his season total up to 11 points.

UMass will need to get its power play going again as the Huskie penalty kill is one of their weaker aspects, killing 55-of-71 (77.46 percent) of the oppositions man-advantage opportunities. The Minutemen tallied power play goals in four straight games before their win against the Catamounts—a game that saw UMass net a program record three short-handed goals—and will need its power play to pick back up in its series with Northeastern.

Carvel recognized the importance of getting the power play contributing again but also admitted the Minutemen can’t get in a special team’s battle with the Huskies.

On the flip side, Northeastern possess the No. 1 power play in the nation with a 28 percent (30-of-107) conversion rate with Gaudette and Sikura each registering eight goals on the man-advantage.

Freshman Cayden Primeau is the Huskies top goaltender boasting a 10-3-3 record, a .920 save percentage and a 2.03 goals-against average in 18 games played.

UMass netminders Ryan Wichow and Matt Murray have continued to split time in the cage—with Wischow holding the edge in wins with seven as opposed to Murray with just three—and both should see plenty of rubber in two games with Northeastern.

Carvel added that he thinks his netminders will need to be big in the set with the offensively-gifted Huskies this weekend.

As the first game back for the Minutemen on home ice, UMass should be energized from the drop of the puck and anything less than its best effort will make it a long night at Mullins.

“It’s good and bad,” said Carvel. “You think because you’re home you’re going to play better but I’m excited to be back.”

Game time is set for 7 p.m.

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.

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