For six weeks, the UMass hockey team practiced for a season with an unknown start date.
At one point, head coach Greg Carvel felt his team hit a wall, but then news came out from Hockey East that the puck will drop for the first time on Friday. That shocked the team.
I think about two weeks ago was really the only time we felt like the guys were tired of bumping into each other and that we had to play someone else, Carvel said in a conference call on Tuesday. When the league finally announced the schedule, I think everyone has rejuvenated and practices have been very good since then. It tries to keep things fresh. I’ve been really happy with how the big big kids have come and worked very hard every day, it was impressive for a period of three months.
The Minutemen would travel to Maine on Thursday for games on Friday and Saturday. However, Maine canceled the series on Wednesday.
We are assessing every opportunity for our teams to compete in the context of the rising number of COVID cases and the threat of community transfer, Maine president Joan Ferrini-Mundy said in a statement.
Hockey East rescheduled its schedule Wednesday and UMass is now playing a home-and-away series with UConn. The Minutemen will receive the Huskies on Friday (6pm) and visit UConn on Saturday (4pm).
Junior defender Marc Del Gaizo was among those eager to get on the ice. Del Gaizo fought injuries last season, missing 12 games.
I am very excited to get started. I had a long low season, I think it was my biggest low season I’ve ever had, he said. I am very excited to get started here. We have been playing against each other for a while now and we have been lucky enough to almost all fall on the same ice as a team.
The Minutemen were about to open the Hockey East Tournament in March when the officials canceled the postseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Players returned to campus in early September, and it was a long, protocol-packed process to return to the ice.
It was a long hiatus from hockey, the longest I’ve been away from the sport since I can even remember, said junior striker Bobby Trivigno, who returned to his home on Long Island during the break.
FIND THE NET The Minutemen are looking for production after the loss of junior attackers John Leonard and Mitchell Chaffee.
Leonard led the nation with 27 goals. The Amherst resident signed with the San Jose Sharks after the season. Chaffee was second on the team with 29 points (16 goals, 13 assists). He signed with the Minnesota Wild in the off season.
The pair were the only players to score double-digit goals. However, the Minutemen had different playmakers last season, as seven players posted double-digit assists. Five of those players return, led by defender Zac Jones (three goals, 20 assists). The other players were Trivigno (nine, 11), forward Oliver Chau (five, 14), Del Gaizo (four, 11) and defender Colin Felix (one, 12).
I think this is another year when you don’t look at our score sheet and one or two guys are going a mile ahead of the rest, Carvel said. It really should be a score from the committee. We have enough quality players. I think our rear is very strong and will play a big part in our attack. Well have four good lines that can all score nightly, but how consistently can each line contribute. That goes to the key.
Carvel expects more from his senior forwards: Jake Gaudet (five points), Philip Lagunov (five points) and Chau.
Our three senior forwards who have played a lot of hockey here and been free players here now need to step forward and be more consistent offensively, Carvel said.
Overall, eight of the teams return 13 players who have scored double digits in points. Trivigno wants to be the man at the front.
I don’t really feel the pressure, I think it’s just more of my time to take it a step further, he said. Like Leno and Chaff, they played a big part for us last year, now I’m a junior so it’s time to put on my big boy pants and try to lead the way in scoring and in other ways too.
With an offensive defense and several talented freshmen in the mix, the Minutemen have options.
We feel like as a group we have the 20 guys we put on the ice, Carvel said. I like the depth of this team, but you probably won’t see any Hobey Baker candidates out on the ice from the group.
POWER ON DEFENSE The Minutemen open the season with two of the best goalkeepers in Hockey East. Senior Matt Murray went 13-6-0 with an average of 1.86 goals and a serve percentage of .919. Junior Filip Lindberg was 8-5-2 with a 1.91 GAA and a .927 serve percentage.
We have a really good D-core there, quite a talented group, quite an attacking group, said Del Gaizo. It really helps if you have two very good keepers who support us.
Jones, a sophomore, was the top-scoring rookie defender in Hockey East last year. He played for Team USA at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.
Junior Ty Farmer and sophomore Matt Kessel join Del Gaizo and Jones among the best blueliners.
We really stressed out to the team, and I showed them the stats last year, the four best teams in our league last year were the four best defensive teams, Carvel said. Offense doesn’t win, defense wins. We feel like we have two strong goalkeepers. I really like our top four defenders. Im ecstatic with our backside and then our attackers must be able to contribute as a group. Our goal is to be one of the best defensive teams at the conference and when we do that, all those good things come out.
NEWCOMERS The Minutemen have nine new players: six freshmen and three transfers.
Redshirt senior Carson Gicewicz is a transfer graduate from St. Lawrence. As a junior forward, he led the Saints with 19 points (team-high 15 assists). He played in the season opening series against Mercyhurst last season, then missed the rest of his year with an injury.
Garrett Wait is a junior forward transferred from Minnesota. He scored 13 points (four goals, nine assists) during his two seasons with the Golden Gophers.
Jerry Harding spent his freshman year in Providence before moving to UMass. The attacker scored no point in 14 games.
The freshmen include defenders Linden Alger and Aaron Bohlinger, forwards Josh Lopina, Oliver MacDonald and Ryan Sullivan, and goalkeeper Henry Graham.
Carvel said he expects top-line and power-play minutes from Gicewicz, Lopina and MacDonald.
The five freshmen skates all spent last season in the United State Hockey League.
I’ll tell them all: you all think the USHL is the elite junior league, but few of you know how to play hockey when you get here and so you have to be ready to learn and it comes on many different levels, Carvel said. .
Several freshmen have academic scholarships. Carvel said they are high character players who have integrated themselves seamlessly into our program.
The freshmen usually came to campus in the summer to start training for the season. Due to the pandemic, they arrived in September and started building towards the season, using the last six weeks of Ice Age to get used to college hockey.
That’s been beneficial for our freshmen to make mistakes in practice and learn, Carvel said. I expect that. No matter how much time a freshman has, it’s a rude awakening in Hockey East.
NO FANS Fans are not allowed into the Mullins Center for games. Hockey East will partner with NESN and ViacomCBS Digital to broadcast every game on TV or digital platforms.
All games will be made available on collegesportslive.com, while all games that air on NESN and NESN + and other selected matchups will also be made available on CBSSports.com and the CBS Sports app outside of New England.
Mike Moran can be reached at [email protected] Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.
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