Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Hockey East action awaits UMass hockey

By Ryan Ames

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(Caroline O’Connor/Daily Collegian)

With six games now in the rear-view mirror for the Massachusetts hockey team, perhaps its most important aspect of its schedule begins this weekend against Merrimack.

UMass (3-3) is set to open its Hockey East Association slate with a home-and-home series against the Warriors (0-3-2) and will seek to improve upon its measly two Hockey East wins from 2016.

“We got something to prove,” coach Greg Carvel said. “Until we win games…we have to earn the respect of our league and the only way to do that is to win games, especially against teams that are predicted to finish low in the second half of the league like we are. Those are the games that we have to win to try to jump past those teams.”

Following a sweep at the hands of Ohio State this past weekend, UMass knows they’ll need to bring a hard, gritty brand of hockey in its first league game with Merrimack, Friday at the Mullins Center.

“I think the biggest thing is the heaviness of Hockey East,” sophomore forward Niko Hildenbrand said. “The guys are bigger, stronger type guys. It’s heavier play in the corners.

“I think we got a lot of big, strong guys and I think we’re even going to continue to get stronger through the year,” Hildenbrand said. “That’s one of our identities is just play hard, be hard players to play against and we definitely can.”

On Saturday, the Minutemen go to North Andover to play the Warriors at Lawler Rink. One of the two Hockey East wins UMass had last season was over Merrimack, in a 3-1 victory, on Nov. 11.

Much like the mindset going into the season three weeks ago, the Minutemen’s confidence will benefit greatly with a strong showing against the Warriors.

“I think it’s important that we win a game, at least one if not two,” Carvel said. “It will definitely help a young team’s confidence, but we’re kind of done saying we’re a young team. We’re all Division I hockey players, playing against Division I hockey players. It’s not an excuse, it’s just a reality. But no matter what team you are, it’s nice to start off with some wins and get some momentum going.”

“We’ve been emphasizing all week that it doesn’t matter what happened in the past four games, it doesn’t matter what our record is now,” Hildenbrand said. “This is when it matters, league play is what matters. I think that all the freshmen and all the guys in there know that.”

Carvel’s added experience with the landscape of the rest of Hockey East, something the former St. Lawrence coach didn’t have last season, will also aide UMass this time around.

“I have a better idea of what we’re going to see from the opponent,” Carvel said. “That’s a big part of it. Having your team prepared you know what to expect, you know what the other team does well and be able to try and neutralize that is very important. Having played all these teams twice now makes it more comfortable for me instead of going in blind.”

All that’s left now is for the Minutemen to prove it on the ice and through six games, they feel they’re in a great spot to send a message to the rest of the league that they’re here to compete.

“I think we’re in a place now through six games, we’ve learned enough about ourselves,” Carvel said. “We’ve learned how hard we have to play, things that we do well, things we need to be better at. We’re in a good place. I feel like we’re prepared to start the league play.”

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.

About the Writer
Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor
Minutemen travel to Schenectady for a rematch with Union to close out first half of the season.
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