Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass prepares for first quarterfinal in 11 years with Northeastern

Minutemen will have to defend the No.1 offense in Hockey East to survive second round

%28Jon+Asgeirsson%2F+Daily+Collegian%29
(Jon Asgeirsson/ Daily Collegian)

(Jon Asgeirsson/ Daily Collegian)

(Jon Asgeirsson/ Daily Collegian)

By Mollie Walker, Collegian Staff

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The Massachusetts hockey team waltzes into unfamiliar territory this weekend as it plays its first quarterfinal series in the Hockey East Tournament since 2007, taking on the second-place offensive powerhouse Northeastern.

“It’s a big challenge for us. We’re a big underdog. But at the same time, I think we’re capable of winning,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “We have a very specific game plan, and I think if we stick to it, play good, playoff style hockey and play physically…the margin of error is going to be very slim.”

UMass (17-18-2, 9-13-2 Hockey East Association) is coming off an explosive Game 3 against Vermont that saw the Minutemen pot five goals while facing elimination. The exciting series included two overtimes, two 10-minute misconducts and a Vermont player receiving a one-game suspension from Hockey East.

Oliver Chau, who scored goal No. 4 in the Minutemen’s 5-1 Game 3 victory over Vermont, thought the series was hard-fought and that the Catamounts played strong and heavy styles of play.

“Obviously we had some slow starts in Game 1 and Game 2, but we battled back in both games,” Chau said. “In Game 3, I think we sent the message and solidified the series.”

The Huskies (21-8-5, 15-6-3 HEA) are currently riding a five-game winning streak that was ignited by their 5-2 victory over Boston University in the Beanpot Championship on Feb. 5. Northeastern hasn’t played since Feb. 24.

The upcoming series counts as Northeastern’s first round of the tournament given its high rank going into the postseason. With the No. 1 offense in Hockey East, the Huskies average 3.59 goals per game and have scored 12 goals in their last two games with New Hampshire.

“When you have that bye week I think it takes just a little bit of time to get going again, but the longer the series plays out then it plays into the favor of the team that had the bye,” Carvel said. “It’s good motivation for us to get out and get to a good start.

“The two games that I’ve coached at Northeastern here, they’ve scored the first shift of the game, so we can’t let that happen,” Carvel added. “We’ve got to get through the first period with no goals against and really set the tone early on.”

Both teams met in January for a home-and-home series that saw each steal a win and a shutout.

The Minutemen were led by two goals from Mitchell Chaffee and a tally from Austin Plevy in their 3-0 victory over Northeastern on Jan. 19 before falling 5-0 on Jan. 20. In the first contest, UMass fought off two power plays, outshot the Huskies 32-29 and went 1-for-7 with the man-advantage.

The second meeting saw a completely different Northeastern team, led by captain Nolan Stevens who registered a hat trick while Dylan Sikura dominated with a four-point showing through three goals and one assist.

“Whenever there’s some good offense on another team, you have to take notice and respect what makes them good,” Chau said. “Obviously we just have to play well and know when [offensive players are] out there.”

Adam Gaudette leads Northeastern with 56 points in 29 goals and 27 assists. Sikura is close behind with 48 points in 17 goals and 31 assists, while throwing a whopping 158 shots on net and a +21 rating on the season.

The Minutemen are led by John Leonard who has 27 points through 12 goals and 15 assists, while Chau has 24 points in nine goals and 15 assists. Chaffee has a team high 13 goals paired with 10 assists for 23 points.

Matt Murray was in net for the Huskies series earlier in the season but will most likely have to sit this stretch out due to an injury sustained in Game 2 against Vermont. Ryan Wischow spent eight games on the bench before stepping up in Game 3 clinching the win and will probably remain between the pipes.

“We’re going to have to get saves,” Carvel said. “They’re the two, and we’re the eighth-seed, but I don’t think there’s that big of a difference between the two teams.”

UMass travels to Boston this upcoming Thursday for the best-of-three series in Matthews Arena. Puck is set to drop at 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday.

Mollie Walker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at MWalker2019.

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