Hockey Notebook: Rufo off to best start of career for UMass hockey

By Ryan Ames


Caroline O’Connor/Daily Collegian

Massachusetts hockey forward Niko Rufo is quietly putting together a strong start to the 2017-18 season.

Through eight games Rufo’s accumulated seven points—two goals, five assists—and currently sits in a tie with freshman John Leonard for second in points among UMass skaters. Oliver Chau tops the charts with nine points.

The redshirt senior joined the Minutemen (4-4, 1-1-0 Hockey East Association) in early August as a graduate transfer from Providence, and has since made a seamless transition to playing in Amherst.

“I love it, it’s been awesome,” Rufo, from Stoneham, said. “Each day’s a grind and I love it. Every day I can help out these new guys which is awesome. [I’ve] enjoying every second of it, I’m so happy I decided to come here. It’s a great opportunity.”

UMass coach Greg Carvel credits Rufo’s increased role with the Minutemen attributing to his hot start.

“He’s a guy that has been given a lot of opportunity,” Carvel said. “I think that’s probably the case where he didn’t get a lot of opportunity at Providence with better players ahead of him. That’s probably why he chose us, to come here, because he knew the opportunity. He’d be a top-six forward, a powerplay guy. When you play top-six minutes you’re going to get the opportunity to score and he’s not afraid to shoot the puck.

Rufo has emerged as a legitimate top-line threat for UMass during the first month of play with his seven points being just three shy of his 10 career points in 56 games with the Friars.

“Coach Carvel has given me a ton of confidence, I think that goes a long way. He’s put me out there in good positions so I just got to thank him for that,” said Rufo. “I’m [also] just playing with some great players. This past weekend playing with Mitch Chaffee and Oliver Chau, they were making plays out there all night. It’s kind of easy to get points when you’re with those guys.”

The 6-foot, 200-pounder has thrived, whether it be centering the second line or on the wing on the top trio, but Rufo admits playing alongside freshman center Philip Lagunov has been particularly enjoyable.

“He’s a pass-first guy which is awesome because I’m more of a shoot-first guy, and I think we just go hand in hand with each other, it’s awesome,” Rufo, who starred at Kimball Union Academy and Arlington Catholic, said. “He’s a great young player and has a tremendous upside so yeah I love playing with Lagunov.”

“I like him with Lagunov,” added Carvel. “When we get Gaudet back we’ll get those two back together because I think they were starting to really form some chemistry. [They’re] two good offensive players figuring out how to use each other.”

As one of the seven upperclassmen the Minutemen carry, learning to mesh with the plethora of young talent has been an adjustment for Rufo, yet he understands how important his veteran role is to the balance of the UMass roster.

“Consistency is definitely the biggest thing to me, I want to be a consistent force out there for these young guys. I want to be a leader to them and to show them that this is the way to do it in college,” said Rufo.

Milestone Watch

New Hampshire coach Dick Umile will be nine wins away from No. 600 when the Wildcats visit the Minutemen Saturday night.

Umile, in his 28th and final season behind the UNH bench, ranks third among active NCAA hockey coaches with 591 wins. Minnesota coach Don Lucia (694) and Boston College legend Jerry York (1,035) round out the top two.

Under Umile’s guidance, the Wildcats earned four births to the Frozen Four, 18 NCAA tournament appearances, eight Hockey East Regular Season Championships, and two Hockey East Tournament titles.

Assorted Statistics

  • UMass has scored 23 goals and has also allowed 23 goals in its first eight games.
  • The Minutemen penalty-kill is currently the 11th-best in the country, (36-of-41, 87.8 percent)
  • UMass boasts four of the top five freshmen scorers in Hockey East. Chau (four points), Lagunov (three points), Mario Ferraro and Cale Makar (two points), all trail UNH newcomer Benton Maass, who’s tallied five points.
  • The Minutemen are undefeated when leading after the first and second period (3-0-0), but are winless when behind after 40 minutes (0-4-0).

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