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 set to take on Providence in first top-10 showdown at Mullins since 2008

The Minutemen enter the weekend home-and-home winners of their last three
Jon Asgeirsson/Collegian

It’s been nearly a decade since the Massachusetts hockey team was last ranked among the nation’s top-10 teams.

But, after a resounding 5-1 victory over New Hampshire at the Whittemore Center on Saturday, No. 9 UMass (6-1-0, 3-0-0 Hockey East Association) breached the top tier of the weekly USCHO poll.

Just under a quarter of a way through the 34-game regular season, the Minutemen aren’t ready to worry about the standings just yet.

“It’s great to get that recognition, especially for this program,” sophomore goaltender Matt Murray said on Tuesday. “That always comes with success, but we’re more focused on the day-to-day aspect of the game and getting better and just working on elevating our game every week. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing.”

For UMass, blocking out the noise of the outside world is a common theme, and coach Greg Carvel said it won’t be any different this week as it prepares for a series with No. 4 Providence.

“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Carvel said. “Whether we’re playing Providence at No. 4 or New Hampshire at No. 50, you have to bring your best to win. Obviously, there will be some extra hype, but we are well aware of how we need to play for our game to be successful.”

The Minutemen upset the Friars (5-1-1, 2-0 HEA) on two separate occasions last season — both at the Mullins Center — but this installment of the Hockey East battle will have a new life of its own.

Providence enters the home-and-home showdown with points in its last four contests, a streak highlighted by a pair of recent Hockey East victories over Boston University and Connecticut.

The Friars, who came up just one game short of a Hockey East Championship last season, boast the second-best scoring offense in Hockey East (24 goals), just a spot behind UMass (30 goals).

On the other side of the sheet, Providence has conceded the least amount of goals (1.14 goals-per-game).

“Providence just competes very hard and they play a straightforward game,” Carvel added. “You have to be ready to match their intensity and that’s been our focus more so than systems play.”

Maxwell Zaleski

Backed by their senior netminder, Hayden Hawkey, and a core of experienced, hard-working skaters, the Friars pose a solid, timely test for the Minutemen as they continue to climb the ranks.

As Carvel pointed out multiple times over the offseason and through the start of this season, UMass had to improve its performance on special teams and in the net to make great strides.

Seven games into the season, the Minutemen have done just that in all three facets of their game.

Leading the league in conversion rate on the power play and penalty kill, 35.5 and 90 percent respectively, UMass also boasts the highest special teams net in Hockey East with a plus-nine mark.

With Bobby Trivigno, who served a one-game suspension against UNH, set to return on Thursday, as well as the recent return of Oliver Chau, the already potent power play is getting reinforcements.

As for in net, Murray has taken his game to another level after a so-so freshman season, and propelled UMass to victories in each of his four starts on the early season.

“I think it’s kind of been buried under a lot of other stories, but Matt has quietly put together a 4-0 record,” Carvel said. “I don’t know his exact stats, but [he’s] pretty impressive right now.”

In those starts, Murray has allowed six goals and made 107 saves with a .947 save percentage.

“It’s been really great,” the sophomore said of his start. “Coming in as a returning guy there’s a lot of pressure to elevate your performance — from the coaching staff as well — and I feel like I’ve answered that bell so far this year. I just have to keep getting better and better every day.”

In his last meeting with the Friars, Murray recorded a 1-0 shutout in the regular season finale.

As he enters his potential third career matchup against a familiar Hockey East opponent, the 6-foot-1 netminder is excited to take the ice and build on the group’s hot start in October.

“It was good to get things rolling [in practice],” Murray said on Tuesday. “I’m just trying to tighten everything up right now and [focus] on stopping pucks. At the end of the day, you have to keep it as simple as possible, focus on one shot at a time, and just take care of all the small details. Providence is No. 4 for a reason, so we have to be as ready for them as possible.”

The first half of the weekend showdown will commence on Thursday at the Mullins Center, while the second half of the home-and-home will be played on Saturday at Schneider Arena.

“That first game is going to be a really big one for us,” Murray said. “It’s always great to play in front of the home crowd, especially with the turnout that we’ve been getting. It’s been fantastic support from the community and from the school, so we’re all really excited to go on Thursday.”

Puck drop for both games is set for 7 p.m.

Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @_LiamFlaherty.

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