UMass hockey drops the puck on new era Friday night

By Kyle DaLuz

(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)
(Katherine Mayo/ Daily Collegian)

When the Massachusetts hockey team drops the puck for the first time Friday night to start the new season, it more importantly signifies the beginning of a new era for UMass hockey.

The 2016-17 campaign will commence with back-to-back home contests against Colorado College at the Mullins Center Friday and Saturday night, as the Greg Carvel era of Minutemen hockey will officially be underway.

Carvel replaced former coach John Micheletto following last season’s less than impressive year that saw UMass drop its final seven games, and end with a final record of 8-24-4 (2-16-4 Hockey East Association.)

Changing the system and changing the culture of Minutemen hockey is a large reason why Carvel was brought into Amherst, and the culmination of his efforts this spring and summer will be on display Friday night when UMass battles the Tigers in the season opener.

The new coach seems eager to drop the puck on a new season.

“I’m more excited than anxious,” Carvel said. “You come in here knowing it’s a process. Every game we need to get better and need to learn. At this point, there’s not a lot of expectations on this team. There’s not a lot of pressure. I just want to make it clear to the guys how we want to play and how hard we need to do that. If they do that, and I feel with what we have we play as well as we can and have the respect of our opponents, that’s what I’m excited about. It’s a process.”

The Minutemen will be led by team captain Steven Iacobellis for the second consecutive season. Iacobellis finished the ‘15-16 season with four goals and 17 assists and will be the first line center man for this season’s team with linemates Ray Pigozzi (eight goals, 22 assists in ‘15-16) and Austin Plevy (10 goals, 14 assists in ‘15-16).

“[There’s] a lot of excitement for a lot of guys, for everybody,” Iacobellis said. “Mostly excitement and looking forward to the season.”

Iacobellis and the rest of the Minutemen are adjusting to Carvel’s style and adapting to his tactics.

“We have to work on our systems,” Iacobellis said. “We have to see where we’re weak and where we’re lacking in knowledge. Having an exhibition game like the one on Saturday is kind of like a refresher to get us back in game shape.”

Assistant captain Dominic Trento echoed his captain’s statement.

“It’s obviously a learning process,” Trento said. “I think [Carvel’s] doing a great job and all the boys are on board with what he’s trying to layout for us. Obviously we’re still learning but that’s the good news. There’s always so much that we can keep getting better.”

Trento (eight goals, nine assists last year), senior defensemen Brennan Baxandall and goalie Alex Wakaluk round out the assistant captains.

Wakaluk, a senior, played in just 10 games last season between the pipes, while Nic Renyard started 26 games in the crease. Carvel says it is unclear who will be the starting goaltender, with freshmen netminder Ryan Wischow on the roster. All three goalies played in Saturday night’s 7-5 exhibition victory against Dalhousie.

UMass rallied to score seven goals in the final two periods in the exhibition contest, which is a testament to the Minutemen’s character under the new coach and hopeful sign of things to come for them this season.

“I think we showed a lot of resiliency in that game,” Trento said. “I think it shows the kind of character we have in that locker room. I think that will help us down the line, especially when the going gets tough in Hockey East play, when you know that you have the ability to come back on a team.”

“I’m excited to be with this group,” Carvel added. “I’m excited for them to feel achievement. Who knows what the terms of achievement are, but I think they already are feeling that. They’re having fun. Whether we win or lose this weekend or any game this year, there’s a certain way I want us to play and I’m sure we’ll be judged by wins and loses but again it’s a process. There are things I want these guys to accomplish and I think they will. It’s a good group of kids. They work hard. They really try to do what we ask. We just have to keep pushing.”

Puck drop is 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center on Friday night.

Kyle DaLuz can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Kyle_DaLuz.