UMass hockey prepares for first conference contest of season

Open Hockey East play against Merrimack

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UMass hockey prepares for first conference contest of season

(Maxwell Zaleski/Daily Collegian)

(Maxwell Zaleski/Daily Collegian)

(Maxwell Zaleski/Daily Collegian)

(Maxwell Zaleski/Daily Collegian)

By Mollie Walker, Assistant Sports Editor

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After splitting last weekend’s series with then-No. 1 ranked Ohio State, the Massachusetts hockey team has set its sights on its first Hockey East opponent, Merrimack.

The Minutemen (3-1-0) combined for seven goals against the high-caliber Buckeyes, earning a No. 16 ranking according to USCHO.com. It was the first time UMass cracked the top-20 since 2010.

“[Getting ranked] feels good, I think we felt it’s where we deserve to be,” coach Greg Carvel said. “The weekend was confirmation that we feel we’re a top-20 team and I think we compete at that level.”

“The win Friday night was a great statement, but to follow it up Saturday and it was basically a tie game right down the end,” he added. “So I think people realized that the first night wasn’t a fluke, but now the hard part is to stay at 16 or get higher, that’s where we’re going to be challenged.”

Merrimack (2-3-0) travels to Amherst for its first home-and-home series of the season Friday. The Warriors recently blanked Boston University, 4-0, after opening the season with a pair of losses to Lake Superior State.

Junior forwards Logan Coomes and Tyler Irvin lead Merrimack with five points each, with Coomes registering two points (goal and assist) against BU. The Warriors’ gritty style of play was something sophomore Cale Makar remembers vividly.

“They’re just a very fast, hardworking team,” Makar said. “They like to get pucks behind the [defense] so we’re going to have to do a lot of breaking out. We just have to be prepared for anything, obviously every team brings in new guys so they could have more skill.

“We just have to be prepared to play hard and play our game.”

Last season the Minutemen split a home-and-home series with Merrimack at the beginning of the season, dominating the Warriors, 4-0, in the first contest before falling, 5-3, the following night. The two teams faced off later in the season back in the Mullins Center with UMass coming out on top, 5-2.

Carvel said he recalled the first series to consist of two completely different games, with the Minutemen struggling greatly in North Andover. He claims he has continued working with the team on adjusting to different game styles and rink sizes, while also learning how to use the width of their home ice to their advantage.

Makar earned Hockey East Player of the Week for the second week in a row after his three-point night in the first matchup with Ohio.

“That doesn’t happen a lot,” Carvel said of Makar’s back-to-back honors. “I think it’s important he got off to a good start. He’s getting points, eight points as a defenseman at this point, I have to imagine is at or near the top of the NCAA.

“It’s good for him to get that recognition because I can’t imagine there’s any, more better players in college hockey,” he added. “I’d love to see him get some awards at the end of the year and so it’s good that he’s getting some accolades early on.”

Makar believes that splitting the series with the Buckeyes proved the Minutemen could “compete with the best this year.” Though he still believes the team should’ve come away with two wins, he knows there’s still room for improvement.

“It’s nice, but at the end of the day it doesn’t mean too much,” Makar said. “We’re obviously only four games into the season. We look at it like we’re making progress but at the end of the day, we can’t look too much into it.”

Mollie Walker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MWalker2019.