Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Ames: Winning ways down the stretch could spark UMass hockey heading into the postseason

Minutemen winners of four out of their last six games

Caroline O'Connor

Caroline O'Connor

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

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When Massachusetts hockey coach Greg Carvel was hired away from St. Lawrence in the spring of 2016 to coach UMass, one of his earliest goals was to establish a winning culture.

With the regular season now just completed of his second season with the Minutemen, winning hockey games is now starting to be the norm for Carvel’s new-era UMass team.

The Minutemen won 15 games, finished in eighth place in the Hockey East Association—the highest since 2011-2012—and earned the right to play a Hockey East Playoff game at the Mullins Center for the first time in 11 years, all in 2017-2018.

Included in those 15 wins—which exactly tripled the Minutemen’s five victories in 2016-2017—were four wins over ranked opponents in Providence (twice), Northeastern and Union.

In October I wrote a column claiming this year’s UMass club would open some eyes and would start to show the rest of Hockey East that they aren’t the laughingstock they once were.

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that the Minutemen have solidified themselves as a formidable Hockey East team, so in the spirit of making some eyebrow-raising predictions, here’s another one:

UMass could very well go on an extensive run in these playoffs.

Now, forget everything I just said for a second and consider this:

The Minutemen won four out of their last six regular season games, and freshman goalie Matt Murray has looked as confident as ever minding the UMass cage over that time.

Playing well down the stretch and having a hot goalie are widely considered two crucial factors in trying to determine the fate of a playoff-bound team, and UMass has both of those going for them at this juncture.

Toss in the fact that the Minutemen’s third line of Niko Hildenbrand, George Mika and Austin Albrecht have emerged as a viable trio, plus just the idea that this UMass bunch is confident right now and things seem to be coming together nicely for the Minutemen at the best possible time.

This isn’t to suggest that I think UMass is now a favorite to take home the Lou Lamoriello Trophy as winners of the Hockey East tournament, because I believe a lot would have to come into place for that to happen.

The Minutemen would have to find a way to ignite their offense after only scoring more than three goals once in the month of February. Their power play would need to pick up the pace, having not scored since Feb. 6 against Merrimack, and they would have to bring the same consistency and energy that has been evident over this final push to the playoffs.

But, then again, UMass hosts the first round, which will offer a huge advantage to the young group. A solid performance vs. the Catamounts could thrust the Minutemen forward feeling good in the proceeding rounds.

This year has been quite a step up from what fans of UMass hockey are used to seeing, and based on how UMass has been playing, the Minutemen’s feel-good story has the potential to turn into a Cinderella run.

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

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