UMass readies for a top-20 clash with Northeastern this weekend

The Minutemen will play their second and third games in four days

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Mehroz Kapadia/Daily Collegian

By Noah Bortle, Sports Editor

On March 12, just a day before the Massachusetts hockey team was slated to host Northeastern in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament, the world came to a grinding halt thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, more than nine months later, the Minutemen (5-3-1, 5-3-1 HEA) and Huskies (3-1-2, 3-1-2 HEA) will take the ice against one another for a home and home series this Friday and Saturday—this time without a bid to play in the Hockey East semifinals at the TD Garden on the line.

No. 9 UMass comes into the weekend playing some of its best hockey of the year. After stumbling to a 2-3-1 start, the Minutemen have rattled off three-straight wins and look to continue the run of success against Northeastern.

The 13th-ranked Huskies, on the other hand, come into the weekend with a 1-1-1 record in their last three contests.

“One of the things that we’ve really stressed to our players,” Carvel said, “is that whatever team can handle—and be resilient and be able to maintain focus and mindset, it’s going to be a huge factor.”

So far in the 2020-21 season it’s been Northeastern’s powerplay that’s propelled a potent scoring offense. The unit ranks second in the nation, converting on 32.3 percent of its opportunities. The high-powered power play has resulted in over a goal and half per game on average, boosting its offense to a top-10 scoring offense in the nation.

In the early parts of the season, it’s been Ty Jackson leading the way for the Huskies’ offense. The freshman forward has three goals to his name. Sophomore d-man Jayden Struble is the leader in clubhouse in terms of points, having tallied five—all assists.

It’ll be strength versus strength however as UMass features one of the country’s best penalty killing units—fourth-best in the NCAA.

While the Minutemen haven’t struggled killing off penalties, they’ve given themselves more chances to prove it than they would’ve liked. In the past three games, UMass has committed 13 penalties, only conceding a single goal.

For the Minutemen, the series represents their second and third games in a four day stretch.

“At this level you don’t do that very often.” Carvel said of the compressed schedule. “It’ll be a challenge, but we went into the COVID year knowing we would have to face these. I tell you what, I have no problem with it. Playing three in four isn’t too much to ask.”

Busy schedules like this week have helped UMass play the most games in Hockey East. With four more games under its belt than the next closest team, its something that Carvel made sure happened.

“We’ve earned the right to play games and we want to play games,” Carvel said. “We’ve made it clear to the commissioner; we’ll play whenever.”

Friday night’s game is slated for a 7 p.m. puck drop at Matthews Arena while Saturday’s contest is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. at the Mullins Center. Both contests will be on TV—Friday’s on NESN and Saturday’s on NESN+.

Noah Bortle can be reached at [email protected] He can be followed on Twitter @noah_bortle.