WALFISH: UMass has made all the statements it needs to make

  • UMass Amherst hockey players, Matt Murray, Mario Ferraro and Jake Gaudet celebrate after winning their game against Providence, 3-2, Nov. 8, 2018, at the Mullins Center. CAROLINE O’CONNOR PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/13/2018 3:28:58 PM

When do statement games stop becoming statement games?

That is the question I pondered in the hallways of Schneider Arena in Providence, R.I. on Saturday after UMass’ 3-2 win over Providence. The Minutemen are now 8-1-0 overall and a perfect 5-0-0 in Hockey East and have already beaten three games against top-five teams, including their most recent sweep of the Friars. Both of those victories elicited conversations about the statement UMass made by winning as if those victories are proof that the Minutemen aren’t a fluke.

Regardless of the results against the Friars last week, UMass had already proven it is a top-10 team. The Minutemen have been dominant on home ice against inferior foes and proved they could grind out road wins against angry ones on the back end of a home-and-home. Yes, there have been some marquee wins that make a slightly louder noise nationally, but every time UMass hit the ice in the first month of the season, it had a chance to send a message.

“We’ve made a couple of statements, but it’s now in the rearview mirror and there’s a lot of season to go,”  coach Greg Carvel said after Saturday’s win. “We can’t hang our hat on anything, but these are two huge wins.”

And now the Minutemen have risen to No. 4 in the polls, the highest ranking in program history, heading into a week of two winnable games – at Holy Cross on Friday and New Hampshire at the Mullins Center on Sunday. And it is fair to say UMass is done making statements to the country.

Every win over a ranked foe is not a surprise or an upset. Every dominant performance over a weaker opponent is expected. A loss is not a sign UMass is a fluke, simply a setback in the long season because it would be illogical to think it can run the table through April.

No more should the Minutemen have to prove they belong in the upper echelon on college hockey this year. It doesn’t matter if they “snuck by with two wins” over Providence as Carvel pointed out Saturday, the point is, they won those games. Good teams find ways to win games they shouldn’t and good teams find ways to win when they don’t play their best.

All of those things have happened for the Minutemen this season and that is the major difference in this year’s squad and the one last season that shocked the country a few times but couldn’t sustain that momentum.

“My first two years here, maybe moreso last year, in a lot of press conferences I was talking about how proud I was of my team’s effort but we didn’t find ways to win,” Carvel said. “This year, time and again, we’re finding ways to win games maybe we didn’t deserve to.”

So when do statement games stop becoming statement games? When there is nothing more to add to the statement. There will be plenty of chances for the Minutemen to add more to their résumé for the postseason and opportunities for them to slip up and lose focus. But none of those will be statement games because UMass has already made its statement loud and clear to the rest of college hockey.

The Minutemen are a legitimate contender in Hockey East this season, they may even be contenders to play in the Frozen Four in April. But if anyone still believes this team is a fluke, no future win will ever change their mind.

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