No. 2 UMass readies for Friday’s regular-season finale at UConn

UMass already clinched No. 1 seed for the Hockey East Tournament

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No. 2 UMass readies for Friday’s regular-season finale at UConn

Jon Asgeirsson/Collegian

Jon Asgeirsson/Collegian

Jon Asgeirsson/Collegian

Jon Asgeirsson/Collegian

By Liam Flaherty, Collegian Staff

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The Massachusetts hockey team is the undisputed regular-season king of the Hockey East Association.

No matter what happens the rest of the way, No. 2 UMass (26-7-0, 18-5-0 HEA) is locked in to host the No. 8 seed in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament, starting March 15 at the Mullins Center.

The Minutemen captured the regular-season crown Thursday at Merrimack, before crushing Maine on Saturday, and with one game separating them from playoff hockey, excitement is building in Amherst.

But before playoffs commence next weekend, UMass first travels to Connecticut on Friday to end the regular season against the ninth-place Huskies (11-20-2, 6-15-2 HEA), who don’t have much to play for.

For the Minutemen, however, in the midst of gearing up for a promising run after their most successful regular season ever, the finale serves as yet another valuable building block to their recent momentum.

“It’s another game and we want to win,” coach Greg Carvel said following a shortened practice Tuesday afternoon. “We want to win every game and we don’t want to put anything in jeopardy. We want to continue the momentum that we think we’ve created here throughout the last six or seven games.”

Following Thursday’s league-clinching victory, Carvel pointed out several facets of the game that needed to improve going forward. On Saturday, during a 6-0 blowout, UMass looked like its old, dominant self.

“The guys are in the right mindset,” he said. “We’re comfortable that we’ve found the edge that got us to a good level at the beginning of the year and everything seems to be trending in the right direction.”

“Clinching the title on Thursday and then having a game Saturday, I think we came out on Saturday with the right mentality,” forward Oliver Chau added, “Just trying to keep moving forward and keep getting better every time we step out onto the ice. We want to be flying on full cylinders heading into playoff hockey.”

Although implications in the standings aren’t on the line, the Minutemen view Friday as a timely test.

“This is preparation for playoffs,” Carvel said. “It’s on the road and it’s in a small rink. We’ll use it as an opportunity, but I think the guys are all in that mindset. It’s like ‘Alright, this has got to be playoff style hockey’ and UConn’s a big, physical team, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get prepared for that game.”

Perhaps the most crucial matchup of the weekend for the Minutemen is one that doesn’t involve them.

With only one point separating eighth-place New Hampshire and seventh-place Boston College in the Hockey East standings and one game remaining, UMass’ initial opponent in the First Round remains undecided.

The Eagles (11-19-3, 10-10-3 HEA) play Thursday and the Wildcats (12-12-9, 8-9-6 HEA) play Friday. The outcome of both games could have an impact on who is dubbed the No. 8 seed the following weekend.

No matter the stakes, however, the Minutemen don’t care who’s suiting up on the other side. “All year we’ve had a mantra: It doesn’t matter who we play, it matters what we bring to the table,” Chau said.

“We have a very special group and with a special group you don’t want to miss out on anything or have any regrets, so we want to try to get as far as we can and do as much as we can with this special group.”

Puck drop on Friday night is set for 7:05 p.m. at the XL Center.

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