Ryan Massa could get used to this.
For the third time in five weekends, the UNO goalie will be back in his home state as the Mavericks take on Colorado College in a National Collegiate Hockey Conference series Friday (8:37 p.m.) and Saturday (8:07 p.m.).
Massa and the Mavs played at Denver the first weekend in November. Then there was the unusual Thanksgiving weekend off. Now this series. Oh, and once finals are over, Massa can head back home to Littleton, Colo., for a break of about 10 days.
“It's a lot of fun to go home,” Massa said. “And being able to play against another NCHC rival makes it even more fun.”
None of UNO's goalies were having much fun early this season.
After sitting out most of last season, Massa was pulled out of a planned redshirt year in late February but couldn't rekindle the magic of his freshman season: He posted a 5.42 goals-against average and .818 save percentage in three appearances. This season hadn't started much better — he had a 4.64 GAA and .757 save percentage while losing his first two starts.
He'd worked hard on his skills over the summer, often facing NHL players while training in Minnesota. The rust was gone, but there was some information overload.
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“I was still figuring everything out,” Massa said. “I was still thinking too much. When you don't play for that long, you work on stuff in your game and you think in practice, you think in video sessions — it's think, think, think. In a game, you can't think — you've got to turn your brain off to be successful.”
Back home in Denver on Nov. 1, things changed. He stopped 33 of 35 shots in a 3-2 win over the Pioneers in the series opener.
“That was the first time in my college career that I was able to go home and play,” Massa said. “And it gave me a lot of motivation. I calmed down, turned my head off and just reacted.”
UNO coach Dean Blais kept Massa as his starting goalie in the series opener against North Dakota (28 saves in a 4-2 win), Michigan (26 saves in a 3-2 win) and Miami (29 saves in a 6-3 win). Finally, after beating three straight top 10 foes and four straight overall, Blais had Massa in net for the second game of the series against Miami. It was another victory — Massa stopped 25 shots in a 3-1 win.
In his five-game winning streak, Massa has a 1.99 GAA and a .934 save percentage. Of the 10 goals he's allowed, only three have come at even strength. He was named the NCHC's goaltender of the week after the Miami sweep.
For the season he's 5-2 with a 2.73 GAA and .899 save percentage. He has secured his grip on No. 1 goaltender status for the Mavs.
“My games against Miami were better than my game against Michigan, my game against Michigan was better than my North Dakota, and my North Dakota was better than my Denver,” Massa said. “If I can continue to stay on that steady incline of improvement, I think I'll be pretty pleased with where I end up at the end of the season.”
Only Massa's immediate family lives in the Denver area, but plenty of friends and former coaches saw him play the Pioneers. He has connections in Colorado Springs, too, which is the home of Colorado College. He played midget hockey in Colorado Springs, commuting from Denver with two others — the trip ranged anywhere from one hour to 21⁄2 hours, depending on traffic, and required Massa to leave school around noon.
“My mom would make us all sandwiches or caramel apples or something,” Massa said. “My house was kind of the central location, close to the highway, and we'd all meet there. We'd take turns driving. We'd make a day of it — get there early and play some pingpong, mess around at the rink before everybody else got out of school.”
It's been a while since Massa has played in Colorado Springs, but if it does for him what playing in Denver did, no one in the UNO camp will be complaining.
“This is the first time in my career I can remember being able to go home so many times in a short period,” Massa said. “And I love Colorado.”