Elizabeth Muirhead ’20 | Assistant Sports Editor
Here at Smith, most of our winter sports are wrapping up, and we can begin looking toward the spring season. But in the world of Division I sports, the winter season stretches into March. Hockey fans, in particular, can look forward to enjoying the UMass Amherst Minutemen’s performance. They rattled the hockey world with their strong play straight out of the gate. Last season, the Minutemen finished with a record of 17-20-2 and got knocked out of their conference tournament in the second round by Northeastern University; they didn’t earn a spot in the following NCAA Men’s tournament to compete for the championship. But this season, the best in the team’s history, has been a totally different story. At this point, their record stands at 24-7, and they have held a No. 2 ranking for the majority of the season.
The regular season consists of 34 games, which leaves three games remaining: two away and one at home. They have an away game against Merrimack College on Feb. 28. Then they will play their senior game at home on Saturday, March 2, against the University of Maine. The last game of the regular season will take place the following Friday at the University of Connecticut. Based on the teams’ records, the Minutemen are expected to win all three of these games, solidifying a strong record and positioning them well as they move forward.
The next step before the NCAA tournament is the Hockey East conference tournament. UMass leads their conference, which has 11 teams total. UMass Lowell and Northeastern, tied in second place, follow closely behind. Providence College is third, Boston University — who won the Hockey East tournament last season to guarantee their spot in the NCAA tournament — is fourth and UConn and Maine are tied in fifth. The conference tournament consists of four rounds and takes place during the early part of March. The top five teams receive a bye (meaning they get to skip a round) in the first round, making the final few games for UConn and Maine extremely crucial.
After the conference tournament, the NCAA tournament takes place, in which 16 teams will compete for the championship. Six of the teams will qualify by winning their conference tournament, and the other ten spots are filled. Even if UMass does not win their conference tournament, they will likely still receive a bid for a spot in the final tournament.
Their success so far has them well-positioned to move forward, and hopefully, their tenacity, skill and momentum will continue in the postseason. UMass has never won a hockey championship, but this current team is the best in the school’s history. Over the next few weeks — as the college hockey world grows tenser and the competition narrows — maybe the Minutemen can come out on top.