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UMass hockey opens season’s second half with Providence

The Minutemen have 16 games left, all against Hockey East opponents, beginning this weekend with Providence. UMass hosts the Friars tonight and travels to Providence Saturday. Both games are at 7 p.m.

“We wanted to start the second half on a good note. Now we have all of our Hockey East games. We have a lot of work to do still. We battled in both of those (Ledyard Bank Classic) games,” senior captain Rocco Carzo said. “We played hard. We were blocking shots. We had guys that don’t score, scoring. We got help from everybody. It was a total team effort from everybody. We just have to carry that over. We’re ready to go. We’re all on board, ready to make some big jumps in the Hockey East standings.”

UMass beat Bemidji St. 4-3 and then No. 8 Dartmouth 3-2 in the Classic, held in Hanover, N.H., on Dec. 30 and 31.

“It was really important for us to come back after the Christmas break and play so well. Not only did we play well, but we won the tournament. It was a huge stepping stone for us going into Hockey East play,” junior Branden Gracel said. “We came from behind to win both games. It was a huge thing to come back. We know if we’re down a goal or two we can come back.”

Minuteman coach John Micheletto liked the effort shown by his team.

“We were unhappy with the way that we went into the break,” said Micheletto, whose team lost twice to Colgate before the break. “We wanted to prove that we were better than the way we finished the first half of the season. You don’t know what you’re going to get coming off a break sometimes. Are guys going to be slow and sluggish? For the most part we played 120 minutes like we hadn’t been on break since Dec. 12.”

The Minutemen (7-9-2, 4-6-1 HE) enter the weekend with a chance to make a move in the Hockey East standings. UMass is in seventh place with nine points, but it’s only three points behind the Friars (7-8-3, 5-4-2), who are in fourth place.

Providence, which lost to UMass 4-0 on Nov. 9, enters the weekend winless in its last five games (0-3-2) and hasn’t won since a 3-2 win over Merrimack on Nov. 30. The Friars were swept by Minnesota State last weekend, 4-3 in overtime and 4-0.

Providence and UMass are tied for fourth in goals per game at 2.78. The Friars are third in goals allowed at 2.44, while the Minutemen are last with 3.06 per game.

Junior forward Derek Army leads PC in scoring with 12 points (six goals, six assists), while sophomore Ross Mauermann (five goals, six assists) and senior Tim Schaller (four goals, seven assists) have 11 each.

Freshman goalie Jon Gillies is 7-6-2 with a 1.95 goals against average and a .928 save percentage.

Micheletto expected tonight to be the first of many challenges the rest of the season.

“It’s so difficult to come away with two victories when you’re playing a team on back-to-back nights. The big boy league starts now. It’s a sprint to the finish line at this point,” he said. “It was nice to get back-to-back wins. It would be nicer to string a few more together. That’s what the second half is all about, gaining confidence and swagger and riding momentum and trying to get on runs as much as you possibly can.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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