Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass hockey enters the 2016-17 season with a full slate of major tournaments and classics

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Jong Man Kim/Collegian

Jong Man Kim/Collegian

The Massachusetts hockey team will be focusing on progress through most of the 2016-17 season. The Minutemen and their coaching staff are refraining from being too concerned about who they play, and instead, focusing instead on how they play.

However, it doesn’t hurt to have a few unique and fascinating tournaments and events on the schedule to showcase the progress UMass coach Greg Carvel hopes to make this season. The Minutemen are scheduled to play the Friendship Four, the Mariucci Classic and Frozen Fenway all in the first season under Carvel.

Each of these events on the schedule will pit the Minutemen against top national talent and put them on grander stages, but Carvel maintains that the focus will remain firmly on his team and their overall progression through the season.

“We’re at a point where it doesn’t matter who we play,” Carvel said. “We’ve got to prove things to ourselves every night and we’ve got to find some consistency and a standard in our game and see if we can push that.”

The first major tournament on the schedule for UMass is the second annual Friendship Four tournament in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where it will be slated to face conference-foe Vermont in the first round, followed by either No. 3 Quinnipiac or Carvel’s former team, No. 12 St. Lawrence in the next round.

The tournament is scheduled for Nov. 25 and 26 during the University’s extended Thanksgiving break, which should give the Minutemen faithful a chance to kick after their turkey dinner at home and watch UMass play in this historical tournament.

This will mark on the second time major college hockey has been played outside of North America, and it drew a television audience in the thousands last year across North America and Europe, as well as the 20,000 in attendance.

“I’m sure it’s like an outdoor game,” Carvel said. “They’re unique so people want to tune in. It’s definitely a chance to expose what we’ve got and we’ve got to make the most of it.”

A month later, on New Year’s Eve weekend, the Minutemen will be traveling out to Minneapolis, Minnesota to play in the 26th annual Mariucci classic hosted by the University of Minnesota.

This will be the third time in program history UMass will play in this tournament, and for Carvel this will be his first time returning to the tournament as a coach since playing in it as a member of the 1992-93 St. Lawrence team that lost in the championship game.

The Minutemen and Golden Gophers will be joined by Alabama-Huntsville and Mercy Hurst, with No. 7 Minnesota being the only ranked team in the field. With the Golden Gophers failing to capture their own tournament’s trophy in seven of the previous nine years, this season’s perceived softer field of teams gives the appearance that Minnesota can change their fortunes.

“I think it’s Minnesota and three teams who are in the same atmosphere right now and we’ve got to go over there and prove that hopefully by January we’ve taken some steps as a team,” Carvel said.

The last major event on the regular season schedule for UMass is scheduled the following week on Jan. 7 when they face No. 8 Boston University at the fourth installment of Frozen Fenway.

This will be the second time the Minutemen are set to skate in the famous ballpark and home of the Boston Red Sox, as UMass fell to Vermont 3-2 in overtime back in 2012. This year Hockey East teams are set to play in all eight Division I match-ups with the Minutemen and Terriers scheduled for the first puck drop.

The schedule this year for UMass is chalk full of opportunities to play teams that wouldn’t normally play, in places that wouldn’t normally play. According to Carvel, that is a major reason why coaches meticulously choose which tournaments they want to play in.

“You only get so many out of conference games,” Carvel said. “Hopefully we get the chance to play Minnesota, and teams like Alabama-Huntsville are teams you don’t get to play very often.”

Carvel added: “The first one being in Ireland is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with your college team in Europe, so that’s an easy one. With Minnesota, it’s fun to travel to different parts of the country and we’ve got some kids on the team from the Chicago area and western Canada so those kids get a chance to play and have their families get to come watch them play.”

Nicholas Souza can be reached at [email protected] and followed @njsouza27. 

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