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

No. 2 UMass gearing up for Merrimack, Maine this weekend

Minutemen can clinch first regular season title Thursday
(Jon Asgeirsson/Daily Collegian)

Each loss the Massachusetts hockey team has suffered this season has revealed a lesson to be learned for the future, and after falling 3-2 to Providence this past Saturday, that trend continued.

“I think it’s that no matter how well we play or how long we stay on it, I think the biggest thing is we got to stay on it for 60 straight minutes,” captain Niko Hildenbrand said. “The biggest thing I think we took out of there is there are no moral victories anymore, especially for us and this program. The expectation is to win every game and that was the biggest takeaway from that game.”

No. 2 UMass (24-7-0, 16-5-0 Hockey East Association) hopes to take that lesson and apply it into its two matchups this week, starting with Merrimack on Thursday.

The Minutemen will travel to North Andover to battle the last-place Warriors (7-22-3, 4-16-2 HEA) at Lawler Rink. In the previous meeting between the two clubs, Marc Del Gaizo’s overtime tally gave UMass the 4-3 victory in late October.

“We snuck by them down there last time we played,” coach Greg Carvel said. “Watching the film, I think we’re a much better team than we were earlier in the year. Of course they will be too.”

In preparation for the smaller ice surface, the Minutemen practiced at Amherst College on Tuesday and among other things, worked on neutral zone play to get ready for the tight quarters of Lawler.

“You want to play in the offensive zone but you can’t do that unless you get through the neutral zone effectively and you need to get through with speed so if you don’t get through with possession you got speed to get on top of them and keep the puck trapped in the zone,” Carvel said. “That’s one area we didn’t think we were very good at the last time we played them. We’re working on that this week to hopefully get pucks through quicker and more efficiently.”

Carvel also mentioned how special teams are impacted with less room to work with and he expects aggressive penalty kills each time out.

“I think it’s just the decision making,” Hildenbrand added. “It’s quicker, you got to go north-south with the puck it’s not as much east-west, it’s not lateral. Sometimes you just got to advance zones, you got to get pucks deep, you got to do the harder things I guess I would say on smaller rinks compared to ours.”

A win would allow UMass to clinch the Hockey East regular season title, a feat no other Minutemen team has accomplished.

“I think it’s going to mean the world for us from where we started to where we are now, just a testament to all the people that work here and all the people that put the blood, sweat and tears into this program, I think it’s for them more than even us,” Hildenbrand said.

Merrimack enters the showdown with a nine-game winless streak dating back to Jan. 12 and have been eliminated from postseason play.

On Saturday, UMass hosts Maine in the final regular season home game of the season at 8 p.m.

The Minutemen split with the Black Bears (14-14-4, 10-8-4 HEA) in Orono last month and expect another battle this time around.

“We know it’s going to be tough,” Hildenbrand said. “No team from here on out is going to roll over for us, we know that.”

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

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