UMass gets set for top-10 matchup with BC Friday night

The Minutemen are getting ready for what may be their biggest game of the season

Parker+Peters

Parker Peters

By Evan Marinofsky, Assistant Sports Editor

This might just be the biggest game of the year.

The Massachusetts hockey team is getting set to host Boston College on Friday night in one of the most anticipated clashes of the season. The top-10 matchup is being marketed by the UMass athletic department as the “Chill the Bill” game.

In other words, it’s the whiteout.

“There’s definitely a little more hype going around,” defenseman Ty Farmer said. “A little bit more buzz around this game. Huge rival for us. We know that all students want to see us beat these guys.”

Both No. 7 UMass (16-8-2, 9-5-2 HEA) and No. 5 BC (15-7, 9-5 HEA) enter this Friday coming off of winless weekends. The Minutemen lost and tied New Hampshire and the Eagles lost both their games against Maine in overtime. UMass still sits two points above BC for first place in Hockey East, even with the subpar results.

Despite the single goal for UMass over two games against the Wildcats, the team was pleased with their performance.

“I thought we competed really well this weekend,” co-captain Mitchell Chaffee said. “It wasn’t an easy weekend by any means. Every game and every shift were battling, and I thought we competed really well.”

Now, the attention turns to BC. UMass and BC had a weekend set earlier in January that saw both teams split – the Minutemen won at Chestnut Hill and the Eagles stole a game the next night in Amherst. BC narrowly outscored UMass 7-6 over the two games.

“They’re a very high-skill team,” Farmer said. “They work hard. I think we have more compete on our side of the game and things we do. If we don’t bring out game this weekend, it’s not going to be good. We know that they’re a good team and we have to be ready to compete.”

Calling BC good would be an understatement. The Eagles rattled off a 10-game win streak in November and December. Ironically enough, the fun ended when they lost to UMass earlier this month.

BC’s offense is third-best in the nation with an average of 3.77 goals per game. It has two players who are among the top-10 in points for Hockey East – Julius Mattila (30) and David Cotton (28).

Limiting scoring chances is going to be a necessity on Friday night.

“They like circling the zone a lot,” Chaffee said of BC’s offensive systems. “All their defensemen are offensive so it’s big for us forwards to stay on them and don’t let them possess the puck up top.”

Similar to UMass, BC also enjoys solid goaltending. UMass rolls with splitting time between Matt Murray and Filip Lindberg, who are both are among the top-six in goals against average throughout the nation. BC has first round talent Spencer Knight in net.

The Minutemen put up six goals on Knight over two games earlier this season. Scoring on him is far from impossible, although his 2.04 GAA ranks 10th in all of college hockey.

But it’s sure never easy.

“We’ve played him before,” Chaffee said of facing Knight. “I don’t think anyone’s too scared. He’s a great goalie and we need to take his eyes away if we want to score on him.”

It’s no secret that BC has quite the assortment of talent on their roster. In Matt Boldy, Alex Newhook and Knight, they have three first-round selections in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Two players were taken later in the draft – Drew Helleson was taken in the second round and Marshall Warren was snagged in the sixth.

In total, the Eagles boast 12 NHL draft picks. The Minutemen tout four.

Going against all that highly acclaimed talent has become a source of motivation for UMass.

“We’re technically, I guess, the underdog team in this situation,” Farmer said. “I think we’ve got a lot of blue-collar guys around here. A lot of guys that have chips on their shoulders. I’ll take that any day of the week over a bunch of first-rounders.”

Chaffee is an interesting case. He’s never been drafted, yet he has a higher point total than all of BC’s future NHLers. He’s a Hobey Baker nominee and the feeling is that a team will sign him at some point. He’s certainly got the credentials for it.

But according to the junior, that doesn’t really enter his mind as extra motivation when facing off against the Eagles.

“I would say it’s kind of like a normal game for me,” he said. “They have a lot of draft picks, but I think our team is very high compete and that’s what makes us a great team, so we’re just going to stick to that.”

One thing UMass has prided itself on in recent years is recruiting guys who fit their culture. That’s part of Greg Carvel’s whole “NewMass” mentality.

And it’s something Chaffee feels gives his team the advantage.

“I think how this program has changed so much in the past years and it’s because of that,” he said regarding that culture. “I would much rather have a team with high compete than a bunch of draft picks.”

Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m. on Friday night from the Mullins Center.

Evan Marinofsky can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @emarinofsky.