By: Matt Dresens
Friday night, Boston University and second-ranked UMass will square off in the first of two in an extended home and home series that sees game two take place next weekend in Amherst.
The covered wagons from the Pioneer Valley are fully equipt with Hobey hopeful Cale Makar, John Leonard and head coach Gregg Carvel. Two years ago, Umass went 5-29-2 in Carvel’s first year and you have to go back to 2007 to find the last winning season in Amherst. 2007 also marks the last time UMass qualified for the NCAA tournament, something that at 19-5-0 and second in the PairWise is almost a guaranteed this year.
The Minutemen have simply been fantastic this year. Momentum started last season with the addition of Makar and really took off after beating Vermont in the Hockey East Opening Round. Support for the program was evident in that series. The Mullins Center was packed and there were shades of hockey enthusiasm that haven’t been evident since John Quick was still in net. The game three win over UVM officially marked the return of hockey passion to the state’s flagship university.
All of the recent success is fantastic for the league. UMass should be a dominant hockey school with the likes of BU and BC. That was the goal for the program when hockey was restored at UMass in 1994. Sadly for the Minutemen, it has hardly workout like that. Instead of hiring current Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson as their first bench boss, UMass opted for Joe Mallen. Mallen’s claim was to get Boston area kids to go to UMass rather than BU and BC. It didn’t work.
Some 20+ years later, UMass finally found their man, Gregg Carvel. Carvell is getting top-notch talent and loads of it. In 2017, UMass had the second-ranked recruiting class in the nation behind only North Dakota according to Neutral Zone.
“I think they have done a good job,” said head coach Albie O’Connell, who will be facing his highest ranked opponent thus far as a head coach this weekend. “They play hard. There is not a guy on their team that doesn’t work and that’s a sign of a good program and a good coach.”
The Minutemen came flying out of the gate to start the season, going 12-1-0 to start the year and the includes a nine-game win streak. UMass is coming off their “roughest” stretch of games, as they are 1-2-0 in their last three. UMass still has a three-point lead on Northeastern for first place in Hockey East with a game in hand. BU is currently tied with Lowell for fourth but is just one point behind NU for second.
“We predicted them to be a top-four team in our league,” voiced O’Connell. “They lead the league right now, there’s a lot of hockey to be played and they got some opponents left, but they have done a really good job keeping it going. Some teams get off to a really good start in October/November and they kinda fizzle. They haven’t.”
Scouting the Minutemen
While Cale Makar garners all the headlines (and deservedly so), senior and grad transfer from St. Lawrence Jacob Pritchard leads the team in scoring with 31 points by way of 12 goals and 19 assists. Makar is second with nine goals and team high 20 assists. Mitchell Chaffee is the leading goal scoring for UMass with 15 on the year. Other players to watch include John Leonard, Marc Del Gazio and Mario Ferraro.
“They have a young team in some regards, but they don’t have a lot of true freshmen,” added O’Connell. “They have a lot of older guys who have played a lot of junior hockey. You have to tip your cap to Ben Barr, their assistant coach, for doing a really good job recruiting and he’s as good a coach as anyone is.”
In goal, Matt Murray has seen the majority of time between the pipes. Coming into this weekend he holds a .930 save percentage and a 1.80 goals against average in 18 appearances.
“Their goaltender has been really good this year,” Added O’Connell. “Anyone over a .930 save percentage is giving you a really good chance of winning each night. They start from the backside and their goalie is really good.”
Bobo Carpenter, who missed Saturday’s game vs Arizona State is listed as questionable for Friday.
“He didn’t practice today, but that doesn’t mean he can’t play tomorrow,” said O’Connell.