Third-ranked Minutemen enjoying current eight-game winning streak

  • Brett Boeing, right, of UMass, fires shot past Princeton’s Derek Topatigh in the first period, Saturday at the Mullins Center. AP

  • John Leonard, of UMass, sets up to shoot against Princeton, Saturday at the Mullins Center. AP

Staff Writer
Published: 11/29/2018 7:52:53 PM

AMHERST — The rise of UMass hockey program doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

The Minutemen are riding an eight-game winning streak into Friday’s Hockey East showdown with Connecticut at the Mullins Center, finding different ways to win along the way. They’ve had their share of dominant games, they absorbed pressure and buried their chances to sweep Providence, and they persevered through overtime last Saturday against Princeton.

Now UMass (11-1-0, 6-0-0 Hockey East) is No. 3 in the country and receiving first-place votes in both national polls. The Minutemen are taking the success in stride while continuing to focus on the details that brought them to this spot in the first place.

“We’ve done a great job at worrying about what our standard is and we know when we bring that standard, we usually find ways to win,” coach Greg Carvel said. “This is not pressure, this is fun. It’s fun to get recognition; it’s fun to win; it’s fun to use this winning streak to keep pushing guys to new levels and challenging them to see how much better they can be at different parts of the game.”

One thing Carvel pointed to as a reason for UMass’ success is the focus the Minutemen give each team on their schedule. He said he’s been pleased that his team hasn’t taken any opponent lightly this season and managed the highs and lows of the season well.

Sophomore Oliver Chau said the doldrums of the five-win season in Carvel’s first year in 2016-17 has kept the team focused this year. Although most of this year’s roster wasn’t on that team, those tough times helped give this year’s group some perspective on how far the program has grown.

“It comes from where we came from,” Chau said. “Three short years ago, this team only had five wins. It’s a humbling experience being on top this time, and knowing where we came from really helps to make sure we stay focused and not take anyone lightly.”

That attribute will be vital against a scrappy Huskies (5-8-1, 2-6-1 HEA) squad that has lost six of their last seven games. Carvel said he’s concerned about the Huskies’ competitive fire, which has been showcased during this recent slide with a pair of one-goal losses to Boston University and Northeastern, the two teams tied for second behind the Minutemen in Hockey East.

He said he continually emphasizes to his players about the need to match the other team’s compete level.

“I tell our guys all the time, watch how many times at the end of the game the losing coach says ‘we just got outcompeted tonight’ so that’s always our biggest concern that we’re going to get outcompeted,” Carvel said. “Princeton was a team that I was a little more worried about their skill because they have some high-end offensive guys than I was about their compete. UConn, I’m worried about their compete and the fact they play hard.”

Despite the Minutemen’s success this year, Carvel said he would like to see his team’s scoring depth improve as they head into the prolonged winter break. Although UMass has seven players with four goals or more in the first 12 games of the season, the third-year coach pointed to players like Chau, Jake Gaudet and Niko Hildenbrand, all of whom scored at least seven goals last season but have combined for just one so far this season.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who still haven’t scored a goal,” Carvel said. “Last year, it felt like it was more well-rounded. ... My last couple of years at St. Lawrence then last year here, it was always ‘Wow, you’re getting equal scoring from all four lines,’ I’d like to get back to that.”

Chau, who scored his first goal of the year in overtime Saturday against Princeton, said he’s confident in the balance of the Minutemen’s four lines, even if the goal scoring isn’t as widespread as it was last year. He said the depth is vital to UMass’ success because it helps keep players rested and ready for end-of-game situations where the Minutemen have thrived this season.

“We have four really good lines who can play score and play really good offensively and really good defensively,” Chau said. “It just gets the team into a groove. When you get four lines rolling 5-on-5, you just get into a rhythm of being on for a shift and then you sit for three. It helps to make sure we have fresh legs all the time.”

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