While the Hockey East standings are a bit of a jumbled mess, the league has done more than just beat up on each other. Seven of the 10 teams have at least a .500 mark in out-of-conference games, including Massachusetts, which holds a 4-2-1 mark in non-conference contests, with a 4-1-1 record against non-Hockey East opponents.
Despite the Minutemen’s strong out-of-conference mark, Massachusetts holds just a 3-6-4 record in league play, though head coach Don Cahoon’s squad has started to show signs of turning things around in Hockey East. The Minutemen have gone 3-1-2 since the first of December, including last weekend’s thrilling 3-2 overtime victory over Vermont at Fenway Park in Boston.
“We’re really trying to put that one to bed and move forward,” Cahoon said of the experience of playing outdoors. “The experience was a terrific one, and anytime we go into Eastern Massachusetts, it’s amazing how many people come out of the woodwork to support us. They show up at all of the Boston-area schools, but when we get a chance to play at the TD Garden or at Fenway, we even get the non-hockey types out and they bring their family and friends, and it was great for our players to experience that.”
Of Massachusetts’ last six games, four of those were non-league contests, with the Minutemen scoring victories against ECAC Hockey’s Cornell and Yale and earning a tie against Harvard. Last weekend, Cahoon’s club picked up three out of a possible four points, earning a tie at Providence before the win over the Catamounts.
“It was really a matter of time with our team trying to evolve,” Cahoon said. “We were getting more consistent, more prepared to play, and getting into the right mindset and putting in the right effort and executing. Away from our rink, we’ve been struggling with attention to detail, and we started to fix that in Florida – one game was really good, and it would suggest we’re starting to get better.
“Our guys are starting to bear down a little more, gaining a little more maturity, and evolving,” Cahoon added. “As we go along, the more different situations and the more adversity we face, it creates a stronger group of people.”
Massachusetts enters this weekend’s lone game, a home contest against Boston College on Friday night, tied with Northeastern for the eighth and final spot in the Hockey East playoffs, though both teams still have 14 league games remaining. Further, both the Minutemen and Huskies are only five points out of the all-important fourth spot in the standings, a spot that would give them a home series when the league playoffs roll around in March.
But before the Minutemen can start looking toward March, their more immediate focus is on their next opponent, Boston College.
“With only one game this weekend against Boston College, those are the only two points we can get,” Cahoon said. “Next weekend is the same thing, with only one game against Vermont – we can only get two points there. It’s really important for us to get something each of these weekends so that we can build some momentum and string together a few four-point weekends.”
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• Of the Hockey East teams with winning non-conference records, it’s a bit surprising that the two who barely made the cut happen to be Boston College and Boston University. The Eagles have a 4-3 mark outside of the league, while the Terriers are 2-2, with a game against Harvard coming up this weekend. Both squads also have a pair of non-league games in February with the Beanpot.
• So what is the team with the best mark outside of Hockey East? As of today, it’s eighth-place Northeastern, at 4-0-1 overall. And before one thinks those games were against cupcakes, think again; not one of those games came at home, with road wins at Michigan, at Minnesota, and at Notre Dame twice, with a tie against Princeton at the Mariucci Classic. Like BC and BU, the Huskies have the two Beanpot contests that could alter their non-league mark yet to come.
• Boston College and Northeastern will wrap up Hockey East’s foray into outdoor games for this season when the two clubs will play at Fenway on Sunday afternoon.
• Oddly enough, Maine is the only Hockey East team to rank in the top 15 nationally in power play percentage, ranking third and converting on 27.8 percent of their chances. Ordinarily, one would think the national leaders in penalty killing percentage would be full of Hockey East clubs, but that’s not the case. Only Boston College (tied for fourth) and Providence (10th) rank among the top quarter of teams nationally.