Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Walker: The Minutemen continue to adjust as they play with targets on their backs

UMass prepares for notorious competition in Boston University

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Walker: The Minutemen continue to adjust as they play with targets on their backs

Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian

Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian

Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian

Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian

By Mollie Walker, Assistant Sports Editor

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The Massachusetts hockey team has found itself in a position that it has never been in before: It is the team to beat.

Lingering amongst the top-five teams in the country for 11 straight weeks, recently alternating between the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in all of college hockey, UMass (19-5-0, 11-3-0, Hockey East Association) no longer surprises anybody.

This past weekend, the Minutemen split their road series with Maine, surpassing the Black Bears 4-2 on Friday before failing to complete the 4-3 comeback on Saturday. Head coach Greg Carvel, for the first time all season, thought that his team did not play to its usual standard.

“The thing that’s hard to learn is that when you’re the first place team in the league, everyone is wound up to play you,” Carvel said. “And if we’re not as wound up to play, then there’s just not that much difference in teams. So, if one team is coming with the higher energy level, it’s going to be a factor in the game, that was what happened this weekend.”

In the first eight games of the second half of the season, unranked Maine as well as UMass Lowell put blemishes on UMass’ record which probably shouldn’t have happened. But when you’re at the top of the conference, according to Carvel, you get the best out of your opponents.

With a team like Boston University (10-10-3, 8-5-2 HEA) on the horizon, a squad that has deeply rooted its success in a decorated program history, I am reminded of the time when Carvel referred to his team’s play as “overly respectful” – something he says the team hasn’t struggled with this year.

“I think just the hot start we had kind of sent a message to us,” Brett Boeing said of why his team doesn’t get star struck. “The freshmen that came in last year are sophomores now, they’re older, we don’t have as many rookies as last year, so I think the extra experience helps that a lot.”

Let’s not forget that the Minutemen were comprised of 13 freshmen last year, leading the country with the most first-year collegiate players in the NCAA. Despite having the likes of Cale Makar and Mario Ferraro in that freshmen bunch, the team as a whole was young.

UMass couldn’t get a win against BU last season, recording a 3-2 loss at home before stealing a 3-3 tie the following week in Agganis Arena. Both were “very tight games” according to Carvel, and he expects the same type of matchup over the next two weekends.

The Terriers have won three of their last five contests, splitting their most recent series with No. 15/17 Arizona State. With 13.7 penalties per game, BU sits at second in the conference in penalty minutes while its power play slides in at fourth in Hockey East.

“Obviously you always like to beat the big time schools like BU and BC. I’ve never beat them in my three years now, everybody wants to beat them, they’re the ones,” Boeing said. “I feel like they could be chasing us now, obviously we’re the top dog right now, so I think we have the target on our back.”

Carvel hopes that the series with Maine will teach UMass that any little dip in energy level will be taken advantage of by opposing teams. Whether it’s Maine, BU, Boston College or UMass Lowell, everyone wants to beat UMass.

And even though Carvel doesn’t care about the high rankings, everyone else does.

“I don’t care about the ranking, it does nothing for us, it doesn’t – it actually hurts us,” Carvel said of playing to protect the team’s success. “To me, it’s not about keeping the No. 1 ranking, it’s focusing on the game in front of us and getting back to not caring about who we’re playing and caring more about what we’re capable of doing and executing.”

The Minutemen travel to Boston this Friday for a 7:30 p.m. start before welcoming the Terriers to Amherst the following week for a 7 p.m. start.

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

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