The Massachusetts hockey team will look to expand on the foundation it started to build last weekend in Arizona, when it takes on Union and American International this weekend.
UMass (1-1) will travel to take on the Dutchmen (0-3) in Schenectady, New York on Friday night, before returning to Amherst for Saturday’s home opener with AIC (0-2-1) at the Mullins Center.
In their opening weekend, the Minutemen played two night contests against ASU. They dropped the first matchup 5-3 before taking the second 4-2, thanks to a third period game-winner off the stick of freshman and Amherst native John Leonard.
According to second-year head coach Greg Carvel, UMass rebounded positively when it took the ice on Saturday following the previous night’s loss.
“We learned a lot from [Friday’s] game, seeing how Arizona really played to their strengths. We did a real good job and made some adjustments [Saturday],” Carvel said. “I thought we neutralized them and at the same time started realizing what we’re capable of offensively. I thought our guys competed really hard and we started to form that identity we hope to see.”
UMass is looking to shape a brand-new identity under Carvel and it’s something he’s stressed repeatedly out of his players, even at this point of the season, following last year’s dismal 5-29-2 record.
“Our players are very aware of what the coaches think the identity of the team needs to be, and we need guys that can play to that identity,” Carvel explained. “We need guys that can really compete, play with the tempo and really work within our system with the way we want to check.”
Sophomore forward Griff Jeszka, who also scored Saturday, noted the atmosphere that surrounds the team is something that starts at practice and can hopefully carry over into the second weekend of action.
“The main thing is staying consistent with the energy in practice and obviously keeping it positive,” Jeszka said. “It’s the beginning of the season and we split the first weekend, so we can’t be too high and can’t be too low. [We’ve] got to stay even-keeled.”
Although Union has yet to garner its first win of the season, Friday’s matchup will certainly be a challenging one for the Minutemen, said Carvel, due to the three competitive teams that the Dutchmen have gone up against this season.
“They’ve played three, to me, what look like NCAA tournament teams,” Carvel said. “They’ll be very eager to get a win, and I’m sure that by looking at us, they probably think it’s a really good chance for them to win their first [one].”
Spending five years as the St. Lawrence head coach awarded Carvel many go-arounds with Union, and he emphasized how they execute extremely well at their home rink, making it a tough place to play.
“Their fans are on top of you, it’s loud, it’s confined and it’s a real home-ice advantage kind of rink,” Carvel said. “It’ll be a real eye-opener for a lot of our younger kids because [Union’s] going to play with a lot of tempo. I think it’s a real good next step and a challenge for us.”
When UMass hosts AIC at the Mullins Center on Saturday, it will be the first of 16 scheduled home games on the 2017-18 schedule.
According to Carvel, however, getting to see different types of teams and how they play is more beneficial to the Minutemen’s improvement than where the games are played at this point.
“The challenge of seeing what we are on the ice is kind of more important right now than where we’re playing,” he said.
Carvel concluded, “It’ll be nice to get home. Hopefully students come out and give us support, and the Mullins start to be a real home advantage place for us.”
Jeszka shared Carvel’s sentiment on the Mullins Center’s potential to act as an advantage down the line.
“We just got to start winning some games, and we’re going fill it up,” Jeszka said. “It’ll be a high-energy place to play, and it’s going to be fun. We’re looking forward to it.”
Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @_LiamFlaherty.