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With a young team, Carvel is preparing the UMass hockey team to thrive

(Caroline O’Connor/Daily Collegian)

To Greg Carvel, second-year head coach of the Massachusetts hockey team, this season is essentially a reset.

With a roster of 13 freshmen, the Minutemen have the largest freshman class in all of Division I hockey.

With the team opening their season riding a three-game winning streak, a stretch of wins that did not occur all of last season, the University of Massachusetts has seen a promising display from this new team.

“It’s unusual where we had 28 roster players this year, and 15 had never played a game here. It’s a different situation,” Carvel said during the preseason. “We’re a very young team, almost all freshmen and sophomores.”

With freshmen and sophomores making up 21 of the 28 Minutemen on the roster, UMass possesses the most underclassmen in the entire league. American International College and Maine are close behind with 20.

“Positives [of a young team] are they’re very impressionable and we’re trying to kind of reset the program to do it with kids who don’t have any kind of preconceived notions of what the program is about, so that’s a huge plus,” Carvel said.

Freshman Mario Ferraro believes the best thing that the first-year players bring to UMass is the incomparable energy level. He believes the mix of the young enthusiasm paired with a strong leadership from the veteran players will help the team be successful.

“We know that we may be young, but that’s not an excuse for us,” Ferraro said. “We’re always going out there trying to give our best effort; we still think that we can beat anybody out there.”

Jake Horton, one of two seniors on the squad, said Carvel has put a lot of emphasis on the team’s ability to compete. For the freshmen, adjusting to the tempo shift from junior hockey leagues to the collegiate level is one of the biggest learning curves.

“As far as coach Carvel goes, he knows the NHL game and he knows what it takes to get to the next level,” Horton said.

With a young team comes young mistakes, which the longtime coach was fully expecting coming into this season. He admits to not being worried about individuals but the team’s identity as a unit and how they’ll be able to perform together.

“I can live with [young mistakes] as long as they’re trying hard,” Carvel said. “Honestly, they don’t make a lot of mistakes, but there’s a maturing that has to take place as a whole team.

“When you’re young and haven’t played together, that hasn’t formed, so that’s what we’re trying to do through character, culture and figuring out what makes us effective. We’re still trying to figure that out.”

Last season Carvel coached the Minutemen to a 5-29-2 overall record going 2-19-1 in the Hockey East. UMass won two out of its first three contests of the season and then finished on a 17-game losing streak. Its last win was a 2-1 overtime victory over Alabama Huntsville on Dec. 30.

Carvel said he spent the 2016-17 season paying close attention to the opponents that his team faced, utilizing the opportunity to play each team twice and figuring out their strengths as well as their style of play.

Focusing all his attention on the Minutemen this season, Carvel hasn’t prioritized learning about what each other squad around Hockey East has gained or lost while transitioning to this year.

“So I feel like I’ve come into this second year, I’ll be able to prepare my team better knowing what all the other teams in the league want to do on the ice,” Carvel said.

Ferraro credits Carvel for having prepared the Minutemen to the fullest extent before each opponent so far this season. The defenseman has felt well informed about each team’s playing style and how to execute a winning performance.

Ferraro isn’t concerned with the Minutemen’s skill nor their effort. According to the freshman, all 28 members of the team put their entire hearts into each and every game they play.

“I think we’ve been doing a good job of [giving 100 percent] at the start of the season,” Ferraro said. “I think we’ve got a really strong group.”

The team’s development started early when the roster visited campus during the summer for workouts; the goal was to initiate team chemistry and develop a new culture within the program as early as possible.

Establishing a new positive energy around the program is at the top of Carvel’s list, acknowledging that as of right now UMass’ skill level could be better, but the most important thing to Carvel is still team comradery.

“Ours is a program that has had a lot of bad times for many years, and I think the older kids on the team are tired of it,” Carvel said following the Minutemen’s 5-4 win over Union on Oct. 13. “When we do have a setback in the game I don’t have to say anything, all the kids are saying it.

“It’s a sign of confidence that they know how they’re supposed to play and if they play that way and play a certain standard then we’re fine,” he said.

Ferraro noted that Carvel has focused a lot on the physicality that UMass brings to each game, which the first year believes is one of the most important aspects of college hockey and what could take the Minutemen to the next level.

This is felt especially on their home ice in the Mullins Center, an Olympic-sized hockey rink. A physical style of play combined with the Mullins Center atmosphere could make for lethal results.

“We may not be the biggest team, but to be physical and finish every check is really important to make our opponents make quick decisions out there,” Ferraro said. “I look forward to the damage that we can do in this league in the future.”

Even with the arrival of such a young roster, Carvel already believes the identity of the Minutemen is much stronger compared to a season ago.

“I thought we were a team that competed pretty hard most nights, there weren’t many nights where I wasn’t happy with how hard we competed,” Carvel said. “But you need to do more than compete; you have to compete and win battles, and that’s where we had to get better last year.

“They understand what we are and what we need to become and the process to get there, I like where their mindset is.”

Mollie Walker can be reached molliewalker@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @MWalker2019.

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