UMass gears up to face Northeastern in Hockey East quarterfinal

Minutemen went 2-1 on the season against the Huskies

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Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Evan Marinofsky, Assistant Sports Editor

It’s here. It’s finally here.

The Massachusetts hockey team begins its quest for a Hockey East championship this weekend when it faces Northeastern in the quarterfinal. The three-game set at Mullins begins Friday and goes until Sunday if necessary.

UMass’ athletic department announced Wednesday that no fans will be in attendance at the games over the weekend. Only media and other credentialed personnel will be allowed in.

“We’re excited,” Bobby Trivigno said of the matchup. “Kind of just focus on this weekend coming up. I just know they’re a skilled team and basically just got to outwill them this weekend. We’re all very excited and I think we’re going to get the job done.”

Northeastern enters the weekend having struggled since mid-February. The Huskies ended the regular season losing five of their final six games, including a 10-1 loss to Boston College and getting swept at Vermont – the worst team in Hockey East.

But overlooking them doesn’t seem to be an issue for the Minutemen.

“They’re going to be a very desperate team,” coach Greg Carvel said. “Right now, they’re outside of the NCAA bubble and so their season ends if we win this series. They’re playing to move on, and we’ve got to match that. That’s always the concern – being able to match the compete level and the desperation of your opponent.”

When faced with Northeastern’s struggles, the Minutemen didn’t seem to be focused on it at all. They didn’t even know the Huskies were struggling.

“If I can be honest with you, I didn’t even see those scores,” Colin Felix said. “That was the first time I’d actually heard of it. We try and stay away from the rest of the league, looking at the scores and everything.”

Fair point.

A lot hinges on whether or not Tyler Madden returns this weekend for the Huskies. Madden has been out since Feb. 14 due to a hand injury, which is right about when his squad began to struggle. Huskies coach Jim Madigan ruled Madden a game-time decision during a Hockey East conference call on Tuesday.

It makes sense why Northeastern hit a rough patch when Madden began watching games from the stands. Madden’s 37 points rank first on the team. His .70 goals per game ranks third in the NCAA and his 1.39 points per game rank fifth.

The only change to UMass’ game plan if Madden returns this weekend is that Carvel will match a line against his to neutralize the Huskies’ most lethal offensive weapon.

“Doesn’t change anything,” Carvel said of his plans if Madden comes back. “Just gives them a good player on the ice that we have to be real careful about. Make sure we’re checking and playing well without the puck. To me, he’s one of the better players in our league.”

If UMass does decide to match lines, one defenseman who may get the task of shutting down Madden is Felix. The junior d-man is known for his hard-hitting, shutdown game alongside the offensive Zac Jones.

Even for Felix, not much would change in his own game if Madden’s skates hit the Mullins ice.

“They have good players regardless whether he’s in the lineup or not,” he said. “Those guys have been putting up points this year, so I think just focus on keeping them away from our net and playing heavy down low. Whether he’s in the lineup or not, we’re going to have the same game plan.”

The Huskies boast other offensive threats aside from Madden. Zach Solow has 31 points in 34 games. Standout defenseman Ryan Shea has the same amount of points in the same number of games.

Something else the Minutemen must figure out is who will get the start in net. It’s been well-documented this season the splitting in time between Matt Murray and Filip Lindberg.

However, in recent weeks, Carvel has expressed a desire to roll with just one and he plans to base it on practice performance this week.

“For the first time this year, I’d like to get away from back and forth,” Carvel said. “I’d like to get a guy in there who’s allowed to get in a groove, build off some momentum. Whoever starts Friday, if they play particularly well, they’ll probably get the start Saturday too.”

To start Murray or to start Lindberg – that really is the question.

Puck drop is slated for 7:15 from Mullins on Friday night.

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