Roster spots still very much up for grabs as UMass hockey heads into first weekend of play against Arizona State

By Ryan Ames

(Caroline O’Connor / Daily Collegian)

In its 1-0 win over Queen’s University Saturday night, the Massachusetts hockey team dressed 15 players that did not suit up for the club in 2016-17.

The majority of those that found themselves in the lineup against the Gaels – 13 to be exact – were freshmen, headlined by Cale Makar and Mario Ferraro. Redshirt sophomore defenseman Josh Couturier and former Providence Friar Niko Rufo were the only two non-freshmen to make their UMass debut in the scrimmage.

The Minutemen start their regular season schedule with a two-game set against Arizona State Oct. 6-7, and given the heavy dose of fresh faces UMass boasts, competition for spots is still as fierce as ever.

“It’s still very much tryouts,” Minutemen coach Greg Carvel said about the state of his lineup. “I think we’re trying to get a lot of guys in one of the two games [against ASU], so everybody gets a pretty good look to see what they can do. After this weekend, we’ll probably start understanding who our top-12 and top-6 are.”

Ivan Chukarov, a mainstay on the blueline a season ago, didn’t play in the exhibition and will be out of the lineup until at least November after suffering an upper-body injury over the summer.

UMass matched up well against Queen’s and despite a second period predominantly controlled by the Gaels, the Minutemen showed some good things in their shutout win.

Most notably, UMass outshot Queen’s 42-25 over the 60-minute affair, and also won the special teams battle scoring on its only attempt in the first period, off the stick of Rufo, while the Gaels were unable to capitalize on their one man-advantage try in the first frame.

Timing and chemistry were a problem for the Minutemen, however that’s to be expected since it was the first time UMass experienced game action in months.

Carvel has already stated how critical this freshman class will be to the Minutemen’s overall success this season, and freshman forward John Leonard, an Amherst native, isn’t shying away from the expectations being put on him, along with the rest of the class.

“It’s obviously a position that every single freshman wants to be in, getting that exposure and being out there in the important times in the game,” Leonard said. “It’s where we all want to be and I don’t think any of us have a problem stepping in there right away.”

Leonard also expressed the convenience of having multiple other players in the same position as him.

“Having everyone in that same boat kind of makes it easier on you,” Leonard said, who starred for the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League last season. “You can talk to each other, let [them] know what’s going on and if you have questions you can talk to them and kind of figure things out, so it’s nice.”

Most of this year’s roster wasn’t on-hand the last time UMass and the Sun Devils met, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some unfinished business from the Minutemen’s perspective.

Before the semester break, ASU swept UMass by identical 4-1 scores last Dec. 16-17 during a rough patch for the Minutemen in which they dropped five straight.

“I think we’re more focused on this group, it’s a much different group than last year, but as a coaching staff we remember that they came in here and handled us pretty easily,” Carvel said. “They’re a well-coached team, they play hard, play a pretty simple, straightforward style and they just did it harder than we wanted to last year.”

With still lots of questions up in the air surrounding this group, winning these two games against the Sun Devils would go a long way in forming that winning culture UMass couldn’t establish last year.

“I think in that regard it’s pretty important,” Carvel said. “We ended last year on a long losing streak, [so] it’d be really nice to get a victory. Two would be really nice, [to] give us some confidence. We’re a young team, I wouldn’t say right now we’re fragile, I don’t think we’ve played enough or have been in situations to know that, but we are young. We’ll learn a lot of lessons every game through the first semester, so [these] victories would be great.”

Carvel did not disclose who will start in net Friday for the Minutemen, pointing to equally impressive performances Saturday from Ryan Wischow, Matt Murray and Brad Arvanitis. Carvel also said that he needs to see them in practice a couple more times before naming a permanent starter.

ASU will be riding high off a 4-1 exhibition victory over Northern Alberta Institute of Technology this past Saturday and will also hope to get its season off on the right foot at Oceanside Ice Arena.

Puck-drop is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. M.S.T. in Tempe, Arizona.

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