The task gets tougher as UMass hockey heads to Northeastern

  • John Leonard, center, and the UMass hockey team open a Hockey East quarterfinal three-game series with Northeastern, Friday in Boston. J. Anthony Roberts

  • The UMass hockey team opens a Hockey East quarterfinal three-game series with Northeastern, Friday in Boston. J. Anthony Roberts

Thursday, March 08, 2018

The task gets more difficult now for the UMass hockey team, probably a lot more difficult.

Earning home ice and beating Vermont in a three-game Hockey East playoff series is a nice step for the program, but the Catamounts were ranked last in both scoring offense and scoring defense in the conference.

Northeastern, which will host UMass in a best-of-three quarterfinal series Friday, Saturday and if necessary Sunday (all games at 7 p.m.), is ranked No. 1 in scoring (3.59 goals per game), power play (26.5 percent) and goals allowed (2.09 per game). All of those rankings are in the top five nationally.

The offense is certainly helped by Adam Gaudette. The junior draft pick of Vancouver leads the nation in points (56) and goals (29). The top-three point producers in Hockey East are all Huskies as seniors Dylan Sikura (17-31-48) and Nolan Stevens (21-17-38) are second and third. Sophomore Jeremy Davies (5-24-29) is the league’s top scoring defenseman.

“Anybody who plays them, their No. 1 focus is staying out of the penalty box. We have a lot of respect for Sikura, Gaudette and Davies,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “If you’re going to take five or six penalties, you probably don’t have a chance to beat them.”

UMass has reason for some confidence, however. The Minutemen split the season series with the Huskies with each team winning at home.

“We’re kind of in uncharted territory playing a quarterfinal series against a Northeastern team that we have tremendous respect for and the high-end offensive players that they have. They have tremendous ability,” Carvel said. “At the same time, we did split the season series with them so we do have a little bit of confidence that if we play to a certain level we can make this an interesting series.”

UMass freshman Jake Gaudet said the Minutemen respected, but didn’t fear the Huskies.

“We’re nowhere near done. We’re excited to play Northeastern. We’ve been playing playoff hockey the past few weeks,” the freshman center said. “Having beaten Northeastern at home we have confidence going in, but we got beat pretty handily at Northeastern so we definitely respect their offensive weapons. We’re working hard on a game plan to shut them down.”

Which UMass goalie will try to slow Northeastern remains to be seen. As of Tuesday, Carvel’s last media session, Matt Murray was still battling the undisclosed injury that prevented him from playing in Game 3 Sunday. Carvel expected sophomore Ryan Wischow to be ready.

“If (Murray) has got a nagging injury that he feels doesn’t let him play close to 100 percent, he doesn’t want to put his team in jeopardy,” Carvel said. “Although he carried the mail for the last few weeks of the season, Ryan and him basically split the net for the other two-thirds. We’re comfortable with either kid. Ryan will probably practice this week knowing it’s his net.”

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