Ames: Evaluating the Minutemen after opening weekend

UMass hockey start season with two wins


(Will Katcher/Daily Collegian)

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts hockey team began its 2018-19 slate with two solid wins over Rensselaer this past weekend. While RPI isn’t projected to be anything special this season, sweeping any team in college hockey is a challenge and UMass accomplished such a feat right off the bat.

Following a month-long stretch of non-stop practices, with one exhibition tossed in, coach Greg Carvel’s Minutemen experienced their first real taste of game action against the Engineers. Forward lines and defensemen pairings developed chemistry and the goaltenders shook off any rust in its season-opening sweep.

Here’s my breakdown of every UMass player after the first weekend of play.

Mitchell Chaffee: I really enjoyed watching Chaffee last year. His size combined with his somewhat surprising complementary skill-set was evident right from the start, and this season seems no different. Recording three goals in the first two games, Chaffee is already showing that last year was no fluke. He’ll be a threat to score every night and is UMass’ most complete forward.

Jake Gaudet: Still searching for his first strike this year, I’ve liked what I’ve seen from No. 18. When Gaudet is effective, he’s throwing his body around to create space and he’s done just that. He was strong in the faceoff dot Saturday, winning 12-of-16 draws, so if he can maintain a similar clip, he can be thrown on the ice in almost any situation. When Oliver Chau returns to the lineup (illness) I wouldn’t be surprised if the trio of Chaffee, Gaudet and Chau are the Minutemen’s most dangerous forward line in 2018-19.

Bobby Trivigno: Carvel called Trivigno “a little rat” after Friday night’s win and I think that’s the perfect way to describe him. He works his tail off every shift and makes life miserable for the opposition. He’s smart with the puck and didn’t seem out of place on a line with Chaffee and Gaudet. Trivigno reminds me a lot of Brad Marchand: a smaller guy that isn’t afraid to muck it up in the corners and start trouble with opposing players.

Jacob Pritchard: Maybe this is just me, but Pritchard seems bigger than his 6-foot listing. Either way, the former St. Lawrence star looks to be a real nice addition to a very young UMass group. Friday he was all around the puck and earned three points in the first period to show for it. I think he’ll be a staple on this year’s Minutemen power play, something Carvel has repeatedly stated he wants to see improve.

Philip Lagunov: If I had to pick one freshman from last year’s class who has yet to reach his full potential, it would be Lagunov. Carvel was very high on him going into last season but he just never seemed to find his offensive game, finishing with just three goals. However, he arguably scored UMass’ most important goal last season, netting the overtime-winner in Game 1 of the opening round playoff series against Vermont, so maybe that’s a sign of things to come. The best way I can describe Lagunov is he isn’t fantastic in one area of the game; rather he’s good in many aspects, which may be more of what this Minutemen team needs.

John Leonard: The Amherst product hasn’t found the back of the net yet this year, but it only seems to be a matter of time before he’s lighting the lamp once again. Leonard’s shot is his bread and butter and his hands have looked to have gotten even quicker. Saturday he lacked his usual compete-level, but I don’t think it’s something to get overly concerned about after just one game. If UMass is going to have significant success this season, Leonard will have to be a regular contributor.

Niko Hildenbrand: This year’s captain came out flying Friday night, laying some hard checks onto some unsuspecting RPI players. Hildenbrand’s game is a hardworking one and is expected to see a lot of time on the penalty-kill. He is quietly effective offensively, as well. A year ago, his eight goals finished tied for third on the team with Niko Rufo, so if he’s semi-regularly chipping in a goal here and there on the third line, this UMass team will have scoring depth it has desperately lacked in recent years.

Anthony Del Gaizo: I think Anthony Del Gaizo could have a very similar freshman year as Leonard did. Like Leonard, his shot is his greatest strength so while he might not end up leading the team in points, he’ll definitely add his fair share of markers. He already has one after scoring the game’s first goal Saturday. He’s taken three penalties in two games and was replaced on the third line by Brett Boeing in the late stages of Saturday’s game, but he’s only played two games in his career so it’s nothing out of the ordinary.

George Mika: As a freshman, Mika was the Minutemen’s top faceoff guy, winning 53 percent of his draws. This year he’s won 16-of-28 in the dot so look for Carvel to send out the Naples, Florida native when UMass needs a win in the circle.

Bobby Kaiser: Kaiser brings size to an otherwise smaller UMass forward group, standing at 6-foot-2. He scored a pretty goal in the exhibition so he may offer more to the table than just his frame. He took two penalties in his collegiate debut Friday so like Anthony Del Gaizo, it’ll take some time to adjust to the quicker pace.

Kurt Keats: Keats is relentless on the ice but his 5-foot-8 stature brings its limitations. He didn’t score at all last year, but his job is more in creating havoc on the other team’s defensemen than scoring goals.

Brett Boeing: In the season-opener, Boeing actually had a few grade-A scoring chances on separate breakaway opportunities but couldn’t convert. Like Kaiser and Keats, Boeing’s main objective as a fourth-liner is to make sure the other team doesn’t score and he’s succeeded so far. In fact, he’s a +3 through two contests.

Marco Bozzo: Serving as the 13th forward this past weekend, Bozzo didn’t see the ice a ton. Him and Jack Suter will be competing for a spot in the lineup all season on that fourth line.

Marc Del Gaizo: I didn’t realize how much Marc Del Gaizo would bring offensively. Yes, he led the United States Hockey League in goals for a defenseman last year, but I guess I thought it would take some time to translate over into college hockey. The opposite has happened, as he scored his first goal in his first game and added an assist as well. Much like the three other freshmen blueliners, I thought he’s looked adequate in the defensive zone.

Cale Makar: Makar might single-handedly lead the Minutemen to glory. His skating has taken another step forward and it was already elite last year. When he decides to take the puck up the ice, he’s almost unstoppable. He’s already had shifts where his speed has offered him prime scoring chances, as evidenced by his first goal of the season on Friday. It took him seven games to score his first goal in 2017-18 and 13 games to record his first multi-point game. He did both in his first game as a sophomore. He throws a bunch of shots to the net (nine through two games already) so if he can finish at a higher rate than last season, the assistant captain will be in the running for the Hobey Baker Award.

Ty Farmer: I like Farmer’s game a lot. It’s simple, yet it’s very effective. He has tremendous vision and has already made some great breakout passes and a few back-door feeds on the power play that were nearly capitalized on. He’s not very tall but he uses his body so well that it’s really not an issue. While fellow freshman Marc Del Gaizo might rack up more points, I believe Farmer will be the more well-rounded defenseman, among the two.

Mario Ferraro: I forgot how intense Ferraro was. Every shift he’s on the ice looks like it’s his last one ever and it’s very fun to watch. The assistant captain is an absolute bulldog on the back end and is one of the hardest workers, if not the hardest worker on the team. His slap shot seems to have added some weight and like Makar, he’ll have many chances to score, particularly from the point on the power play. His play in the defensive zone gets overlooked as I think he’s the best defenseman in his own zone on the team.

Colin Felix: Felix has surprised me a bit because he’s been so clean with the puck. He’s made the right play in just about every instance and his stocky frame makes him difficult to play against. He earned an assist Saturday and if he can continue to be a reliable third-pairing defenseman, that could take a lot of nerves away from Carvel.

Kolby Vegara: Similar to Felix, Vegara hasn’t been a liability on the ice for UMass. I would say Felix is the more talented of the two freshmen, however Vegara has distributed some hard hits that might force Carvel to keep him in the lineup when McLaughlin and Chukarov return from Injuries.

Matt Murray: When Murray is on his game, it doesn’t look like he’s trying very hard. He’s very smooth and composed in his crease and pucks seem to hit him like that’s what was supposed to happen. He exemplified those qualities Friday and he even showed improvement in regards to puck-handling, which was his weakest area of his game as a freshman.

Fille Lindberg: Making your first career start is never easy, but Lindberg had to do it on the road on the back end of a home-and-home after the Minutemen won the first game big. Despite that, I thought Lindberg looked pretty good on Saturday. Lindberg seems to be the more athletic of the two goaltenders and it showed, making a handful of challenging saves look relatively easy. I’m personally very interested to see how this goalie situation plays out because I think both Murray and Lindberg are capable college goalies. Brad Arvanitis is the third goalie but he serves as the emergency goalie for the Minutemen.

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