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UMass opens Hockey East with weekend home series against Maine

AMHERST — University of Massachusetts hockey coach John Micheletto couldn’t recall ever having to do this. Neither could Conor Sheary.

When UMass hosts Maine this weekend it will round out a four-game stretch against the Black Bears. A week ago, UMass traveled north and lost a pair of nonconference games in Maine.

“It’s definitely a challenge to face the same team four times in a row, I mean I’ve never had that in college or even before that,” Sheary said.

The confines of the Mullins Center might offer relief to a team that lost 3-2 in overtime on Friday and 8-4 on Saturday. Maine’s antiquated Alfond Arena is a difficult place to play, as students hang over the edges of the ice from the second level.

“It’s a different rink, a different game this weekend than it was last weekend,” Sheary said. “We’re going into it with a different strategy with a different ice surface and we’ll be ready for them because we know exactly what we’re going to get.”

The first line of Michael Pereira, Branden Gracel and Sheary has excelled for the Minutemen with 11 points through six games.

“We definitely have some chemistry rolled over from last year as well,” Sheary said. “I think to start off the season, we’re doing a pretty good job.”

UMass’ goal is to run four consistent lines. So far, the team’s offensive production is heavily slanted toward the top two lines, which have combined for 14 of the team’s 17 goals.

“I think (the bottom two lines) have been giving us good minutes and good energy, but obviously we’d love for all four lines to be producing offense on a consistent basis,” Micheletto said. “I’m glad we got two going right now, hopefully we can get a third line starting to chip in more consistently.”

Depth is critical as the Minutemen prepare for a heavy chunk of their conference schedule in November. Friday’s 7 p.m. matchup against the Black Bears marks the first of eight straight conference games for the Minutemen. Both games last weekend were nonconference games.

“It definitely gives it a little bit more intensity,” Sheary said. “Hockey East games always give a little bit more uptempo and a lot of energy going.”

For Micheletto, this week of practice focused on stronger execution.

“I think our preparation was good, it’s just our execution on game nights wasn’t very good,” he said. “We got off to a slow start on Friday and ramped it up in the third period and it’s just not enough in this league to do it that way.”

He also thought Saturday’s game wasn’t as lopsided as the score might suggest.

“(We) probably should have been out on top of them by more than a goal,” said Micheletto, whose team allowed six goals in the second period. “We weren’t able to push through and get that cushion and obviously things started to go wrong in the second. I don’t think we played that poorly, but every mistake wound up in the back of net.”

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