Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

By Jon Pelland

Look quickly or you’ll miss him. All you see zooming by is a blur of maroon and white. At first it is hard to distinguish which Massachusetts player’s skates are responsible for leaving smoke in his tracks, but if you take a closer look you may be able to distinguish the number “11” on the sweater of one of the brightest young players on the Minutemen.

That number 11 belongs to freshman winger Chris Davis. The rookie from Simsbury, Conn. is making a first impression that is impressing a lot of people in Amherst.

At first glance, it isn’t hard to picture Davis as one of the smaller guys out on the ice. He is listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, but that seems to be a stretch. He himself will be the first to admit that he isn’t the biggest guy on the ice, but he doesn’t have to be. Size is of little factor in the way Davis plays hockey.

The freshman relies mainly on his legs to be successful out there. He is what you would call a speedster. With a grandfather who led Major League Baseball in stolen bases for five consecutive years, from 1939 until 1943, how could he not be?

In 11 seasons with the Washington Senators and Cleveland Indians, George Case racked up 349 stolen bases, including 61 in 1943 alone. With that kind of pedigree, Davis was bound to possess the wheels he shows off game-in and game-out.

“I’d like to credit my speed to my grandfather. But he was also a quiet player. He didn’t talk much. He just went out there on the field and did his own thing,” Davis says.

In one particular matchup between the Minutemen and Boston College earlier this season, the younger Davis was outskating many of the older, more experienced Eagles, who are part of one of the best hockey programs in all of Division I and a perennial contender in Hockey East. In that game, the freshman consistently beat the Eagles to loose pucks and constantly put space between himself and his defenders.

The young speedster says his legs aren’t the only thing he’s received from his grandfather. Davis also has the quiet demeanor that his grandfather took pride in. While his teammates are kicking the soccer ball around getting themselves pumped up for a game, the freshman is quietly listening to music – usually techno – at his locker.

“I pretty much try to stay quiet before the game, not bouncing around,” he says. “I just sit and mind my own business and listen to some music.”

For the better part of this season, Davis has been playing on the top line for UMass alongside team captain Steven Werner and junior Chris Capraro. Despite some recent line changes that Cahoon has instituted, Davis was able to gather as much knowledge from his prior linemates as he could.

“[It] was a good start playing with the captain right away on the top line. I’ve learned a lot so far,” Davis says. “Especially how to finish, at practice watching Stephen Werner; how he has the confidence to score every time he has the puck.”

Learning from one of the premier scorers in UMass history has done wonders for the first-year winger. In his first season at the Division I collegiate level, Davis has consistently been at the top of the list for the Maroon and White in just about every offensive category. Through Jan. 21, his six goals and six assists were good for fourth on the team in points (12), behind only team captains Werner (18), Marvin Degon (17) and Matt Anderson (14).

“I’ve been pretty lucky getting scoring chances, and I’d like to credit that to playing with Stephen Werner a lot. He gets the puck on my stick a lot,” Davis says. “I’ve been lucky to be able to finish off some big goals for us here.”

Speed turned out to be one of the decisive factors that brought Davis to play for Don Cahoon in Amherst. The Mullins Center ice sheet is 200 feet by 95 feet, among the biggest in the conference. The bigger surface gives Davis more room to get his legs going and blow by would-be defenders.

“I like the big, Olympic-size rink,” Davis says. “It definitely helps with my speed.”

Playing in front of the hometown fans has not only helped with Davis’ speed; it’s boosted his statistics as well. Of his six goals and six assists this season, four of each have come at the Mullins Center.

Cahoon and his staff went after Davis early in his junior year at Avon. At first, there wasn’t much interest in the kid from Simsbury, so he held off and waited to decide which school he wanted to attend.

“I talked a little bit to [former UMass assistant coach Mark] Dennehy back then. I wasn’t really sure what school I wanted, but the good thing was I waited and looked at a lot of different schools,” Davis says.

UConn, Providence and Holy Cross were among the other schools Davis was interested in. However, the more he saw the UMass, the more he could see himself playing on the Mullins Center ice, and he is certain he made the right move.

“I saw them once my junior year, but then I got to see them a couple more times my senior year,” he says. “I also knew a couple of players on the team, so I’m really happy with my decision.”

Davis played high school hockey for one of the best prep school teams in New England at Avon Old Farms, where he enjoyed a lot of success on the ice. During his junior and senior seasons, the team went a combined 52-3 while taking home two New England Prep School Championships. He was surrounded by loads of talented players including current teammate Jon Quick, who was selected in the third round of the NHL Draft by the Los Angeles Kings.

“We had 10 guys go Division I from our team and Quick is on the team here. That definitely helped as far as getting ready for playing at this level,” says Davis of his team at Avon. “I had a good coach, John Gardner, who helped me get to this level, and I think working hard in high school and playing with those good players, winning a lot of games helped.”

He says it was Gardner’s tell-you-how-it-is attitude that helped him on the ice to the tune of 47 career goals and 64 assists, but he insists scoring is not the main name of his game.

“I’ve really seen myself as a top scorer but more as role player. With my speed, I’ve gotten a lot of chances at the net, getting close in on the net, beating defensemen wide and getting breakaways,” Davis says. “I like to call myself sort of a gritty player. I use my speed to get in there in the corners, but also I like to show a little bit of grit, get in there and throw the body around a little bit. I’m not the biggest guy out there, but I still like to throw a couple of hits.”

You almost have to remind yourself that this is still just Davis’ freshman season, and he has three more years to mature and grow his game even more, a thought that should strike fear in the minds of all the teams he faces.

He says eventually he would like to shape his game into one that mirrors Pavel Bure, the former NHL sniper who also relied on his speed for success. The best thing a UMass fan can do is just sit back and enjoy the show in the coming years.

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