By Mark Fraenkel
Following a bye week, the No. 14 Boston University men’s hockey team (4-3-0, 2-2-0 Hockey East) returns to action with a home-and-home series with the No. 11 University of Massachusetts Amherst Minutemen (5-3-1, 1-3-0 HE) this weekend. UMass will host BU on Friday night at the Mullins Center before heading back to Agganis Arena on Saturday.
“It’s been a long two weeks,” head coach Jay Pandolfo said in his Thursday media call. “We’re certainly looking forward to getting back to some competition outside of playing against ourselves in practice.”
Despite an early season sweep of the then No. 1 Denver Pioneers (7-3-0), the Minutemen have struggled lately. Greg Carvel’s team has lost three in a row, including losing five out of six points to the No. 9 Providence College Friars (6-2-1, 4-0-1 HE) last weekend. Because of their recent record, Pandolfo anticipated an extra-motivated UMass team this weekend, as quoted in his media call.
Before the bye week, the Terriers split with the No. 16 University of Massachusetts Lowell River Hawks (7-3-0, 4-1-0 HE), as well as two other weekend splits with the No.9 University of Connecticut Huskies (9-1-1, 6-1-0 HE) and No. 3 University of Michigan Wolverines (8-2-0).
Young players play pivotal roles for both teams. For BU, the line of freshmen forwards Quinn Hutson, Ryan Greene, and Jeremey Wilmer have played a major part in the team’s success thus far. In addition to the “freshman line” of forwards, first-year defenseman Lane Hutson has also been a crucial member of the team this year with eight points in seven games.
In Amherst, freshman forward Kenny Connors is making an early impact for the Minutemen, leading his team in goals, assists, and points. The Glen Mills, Pennsylvania native was named Hockey East Rookie of the Month for October.
BU currently leads UMass in the Hockey East standings by two points and the Terriers are tied with the Boston College Eagles (2-4-1, 2-3-0 HE) for sixth. They trail the fifth-seeded No. 19 Merrimack College Warriors (6-3-0, 4-1-0 HE) by six points so far, but have also played fewer games than those leading the league.
Worth noting is UMass’ penalty kill and power play units this weekend. The Minutemen have converted on ten of 23 power plays this season, while their opponents have only scored four times on 28 chances. In the same metrics, BU is only converting on 8/38 of their man-advantages and are 7/37 on the penalty kill.
“UMass has really good special teams on both sides, power play and penalty kill,” Pandolfo acknowledged. “We have to make sure our special teams are really good. And we have to make sure, like we said, our discipline is good. And we are staying out of the box.”
Both teams will be looking for the sweep this weekend as they compete for valuable Hockey East points in a tight and competitive league. Be sure to follow along on Twitter @BOSHockeyBlog and Instagram @Boston.Hockey.Blog for live game coverage all weekend.