The Massachusetts hockey team knows how to start games.
In the nine it’s played so far, UMass (8-1-0, 5-0-0 Hockey East Association) has scored first in all but one of them. In the first period altogether, the Minutemen have outscored their opponents by over a 4:1 ratio (17-4), baffling the opposition before they even know what hit them.
It’s a strategy that has paid off as the momentum gained from these fiery first periods has forced other teams to play catch-up hockey – a situation no team wants to find itself in.
“We talk about how important it is to score the first goal. We’ve done a great job this year,” coach Greg Carvel said. “One game at Merrimack, they scored first. I don’t know if there’s been any other games other than that.”
There haven’t been. On Oct. 27 in North Andover, the Warriors scored quickly, both in the first period and the third period, but the Minutemen still snuck away with an overtime victory.
UMass has feasted on opponents who took a period or two to find their legs more so than any other Hockey East school. The Minutemen’s 17 first period goals are the most among the 11 programs by a wide margin. The next closest club is the Friars, who have nine first period goals.
“I think it’s definitely one of the points of emphasis going into the season, that if we start well, it’s going to translate well in the game,” captain Niko Hildenbrand said. “It’s never one of those things where you want to get down early, so us getting up early really gives us confidence moving into the rest of the game, and I think that that’s ultimately helping us.”
This past weekend, UMass led 2-0 after 20 minutes in both contests with Providence, but then witnessed a heavy Friar surge in the second and third periods of each game that resulted in a tied score.
Trying to find that level of play from the first period and transferring it over into the next 40 minutes is an area the Minutemen have focused on, specifically before their battle with Holy Cross this upcoming Friday.
“I think just harping on consistency,” Hildenbrand said. “Coming into the season, we’d have stretches where last year, we’d have good games, we’d have bad games – it’s a consistency thing and I think that that’s what we’ve kind of maintained so far throughout the year and I think that’s what’s contributed to the fast start.”
“It’s just about maintaining our standard of play,” Carvel added. “It was a combination last weekend of Providence ratcheting up in the second and third period and us kind of falling off our good first periods.”
The first period of a hockey game can sort out who’s ready to play and who’s not and to this point, UMass has made it known that it’s focused right from the drop of the puck.
Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @_RyanAmes.