UMass hockey heads into North Andover for first Hockey East road game of season

By Kyle DaLuz

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Christina Yacono/Collegian

(Christina Yacono/Collegian)

The Massachusetts hockey team has taken significant strides towards the type of hockey that coach Greg Carvel envisioned when he took the job as the leader of the UMass bench this past winter.

After falling 4-1 to New Hampshire on Oct. 28, the Minutemen (2-4-1, 0-2-1 Hockey East) have outscored both Boston College and Connecticut 6-4 over the last five periods played. This includes a scoreless overtime period in the Nov. 4 tie (2-2) at the Mullins Center with UConn, overcoming a 2-0 deficit to the Huskies in the first four minutes of the first period.

“I was really happy to see how we were able to reset and found the momentum going our way and sustain it for good stretches of time,” Carvel said. “The last two periods and overtime I think we outshot [UConn] pretty handily. You could just feel it on the bench. It was a feeling of, okay, this is how we need to play. The change in basically less than a week was big to take a step towards realizing what we are and that helps create an identity.”

UMass looks to take its play a step further during a pair of weekend games against Hockey East opponents Merrimack and Vermont.

The Warriors (4-4-2) have won all four of their games on their home ice, where they will be hosting the Minutemen Friday night.

Merrimack is allowing 2.9 goals per game while scoring 2.6 of its own. The Warriors also lost to UNH but tied BC 2-2.

Hampus Gustafsson leads Merrimack with five goals on the young season while Brett Seney has tallied nine points in as many games.

Hockey East competition on the road can be a difficult task for an opposing team, but Carvel and his players welcome the challenge.

“I wanted to play a lot of home games upfront to see what we are in a comfortable setting,” Carvel said. “Now I want to see what we are on the road. Merrimack is a good place to go to because they’re going to play hard and honest. There’s going to be tight checking.”

“We’ve had a long stretch at home here so we’re excited to get on the road and stay in a hotel,” forward Kurt Keats said. “It’s some good team bonding when you go down the night before and guys get to hang out in the hotel before dinner. It’s definitely a game we’re looking forward to. Merrimack is a tough team and the rink is tough place to go into and get two points in an arena where the fans are right in your face. It’ll be exciting.”

Vermont will come to Amherst for the latter half of a back-to-back for UMass Saturday. The Catamounts (4-3-1, 1-2-0 HE) are scoring just over three goals per game (3.1) and allowing 2.5 goals per game.

Vermont is the lone team of the weekend competitors that has won a Hockey East game, besting Northeastern on the road in a 3-2 victory on Oct. 30.

If the Minutemen are to emerge victorious this weekend in either contest, it will likely rely on the consistent offensive production from Keats.

Keats has four points this season, with a pair of assists and goals to his credit. Both goals have come in the last three games, with his latest being the second goal in the tie with UConn.

“He’s leading the charge in showing us how we need to compete and how hard we need to play,” Carvel said. “I think it’s just the desire to compete. He plays every shift like it’s his last. He competes hard and he’s finding ways to win battles which is creating offense and allowing him to score goals.”

“I don’t think I’ve changed anything with my game,” Keats added. “I just play my game, work hard, cycle down low and play desperate hockey. I haven’t really changed anything. Things are just starting to work for me. I’m getting some bounces and pucks are going in. I hope it continues.”

Puck drop from Lawler Rink is set for 7 p.m. in North Andover Friday.

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

Editors note: A previous version of this story referred to Kurt Keats as a defensemen. He is a forward.