Not a whole lot went right in the Massachusetts hockey team’s 3-0 loss to New Hampshire Saturday night, however, perhaps the lone positive in a game that didn’t feature many for UMass was the return of Ivan Chukarov to the Minutemen lineup.
Out of action for the previous eight games recovering from a upper-body injury suffered in the offseason, Chukarov made his long-awaited season debut on the UMass (4-5-0, 1-2-0 Hockey East Association) blueline against the Wildcats (6-1-1, 3-0-1 HEA).
Chukarov, a junior, was alongside sophomore Shane Bear on the Minutemen’s third defensemen pairing and logged two shots over the course of the 60-minute defeat.
“We always like his mobility,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “[He’s a] big kid, skates well. He used that mobility at times to really gap-up defensively. Other than that, I didn’t really notice a difference.”
With a backend that features both Cale Makar and Mario Ferraro, the Minutemen are pretty well stocked up on talented defensemen, but the addition of a veteran puck mover like Chukarov will go a long way in securing UMass’ defense.
“It should, but I was distracted by a lot of other things tonight,” said Carvel of the importance of Chukarov’s return to the overall club’s development. “He was fine for not having played his first game and he looked like he was in mid-season form so that’s good. But I think he wasn’t a major factor either way. I think we’re very glad to have him back because he’s a big guy that moves. The way we want to play, he helps us do that.”
The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder from Des Plaines, Illinois also got some time on the Minutemen penalty-kill and was a -1.
The injury bug has been an early season hurdle for UMass as freshmen and top-six forwards John Leonard and Jake Gaudet have each missed multiple games for the Minutemen.
Marco Bozzo returned to the lineup as well after missing the prior two games and only registered one shot in the loss to UNH at Mullins.
Chukarov, a seventh-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres in 2015, has skated in 72 career games for UMass and has recorded five goals and 11 assists for 16 points during his first two seasons in Amherst.
Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.