UMass hockey gets chance to bond during trip to Belfast
It’s not often that players are able to travel outside of the country. It is even rarer for players to play in tournaments located overseas, which is what the Massachusetts hockey team did this past weekend.
UMass (3-7-2, 1-5-1 Hockey East) traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland to compete in the Friendship Four tournament with Vermont, St. Lawrence and Quinnipiac.
The Minutemen fell 4-2 on the opening night of the Belpot tournament to Hockey East foe Vermont, and fought coach Greg Carvel’s former club SLU to a 2-2 draw.
The experience was more than just a business trip for the club. The team spent five days and nights together as a team on and off the rink, forming a closer bond as a unit.
“It was excellent – every part of it,” Carvel said. “We enjoyed being in a foreign country. When it was time to practice and play the games I thought the guys were really good, energized and played with good energy. Nothing but positives for the whole trip.”
The team visited two schools on their first full day in Belfast. The Minutemen delivered boxes filled with souvenirs of UMass gear to the Longstone School and learned how to play hurling at the Our Lady and St. Patrick’s College by the head of the physical education department Frank Wilson.
A game of ancient Gaelic and Irish origin, hurling is a mix of three sports – baseball, lacrosse and soccer. Played on a field the length of a soccer field with essentially the same nets, and a ball the size of a baseball, the game features sticks like those used in lacrosse with the goal of scoring more points than the opposition.
A dangerous full-contact sport like hurling allowed the Minutemen to relate to the game more in playing a sport with similar consequences.
“(Hurling) is a great sport,” freshman forward Griff Jeszka said. “How you hit the ball is inverted to how you would do it in baseball. It’s kind of strange.”
The guys even got some reps in the game from Wilson, who made the team run through drills in their jerseys and practice penalty shots.
Captain Steven Iacobellis doesn’t think the couple hours he spent playing will register into a new career choice.
“Not a chance, I definitely could not take up hurling right now,” he said.
“I think if you’re athletic – like anything else – you can pick it up pretty easily,” Carvel said. “Other guys not so much. It’s good to be exposed to new things. It seems like a real difficult and demanding sport – dangerous. Not something I would be taking part in.”
The team spent time downtown with visits to the Titanic museum and the Peace Wall.
The peace lines are a series of border barriers in Northern Ireland that separate Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods. Some sections of the wall have signatures all over it and the team added its own to the landmark.
“It was something – it kind of took the breath out of all our mouths a little bit,” Iacobellis said. “We signed it and it was cool to be a part of it and see the history.”
UMass participated in a team-wide “Game of Thrones” dinner that had the guys dress up in cloaks and characters from the show.
The experience on and off the ice forged a sense of togetherness within the team that both the players and coaches will benefit it going forward.
“It was great for our guys,” assistant coach Jared DeMichiel said. “I thought we actually came together a lot through the trip. It was awesome.”
“I think it was big week and weekend for the team,” Iacobellis said. “I feel we played pretty well in general and probably deserved a little bit better than coming out of there without a win. It was a big week of bonding and getting together with everybody. It was pretty neat.”
Kyle DaLuz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Kyle_DaLuz.