Massachusetts Daily Collegian

With season-opener approaching, UMass hockey looking for a hot start

The Minutemen kick off their 2018-19 campaign against Rensselaer on Friday

By Liam Flaherty, Collegian Staff

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The Massachusetts hockey team is finally ready to hit the ice and will kick off its regular season with a home-and-home series against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Friday and Saturday.

After taking down the Royal Military College of Canada in an exhibition affair on Oct. 6 at Mullins Center, the Minutemen are eager to get another taste of game action.

Although coach Greg Carvel said the competition in the exhibition matchup at Mullins was less than he expected, the game provided crucial experience for the young UMass skaters.

“We’re feeling good,” Ty Farmer, one of four freshmen defensemen, said. “It was nice to get my first college game out of the way. It was really good to get out there with this group of guys.” 

With two thirds of the backend composed of first-year skaters that have only experienced a single game of collegiate action, the opening weekend against RPI poses a critical, early test.

“RPI will obviously be better than what we saw on Saturday,” Carvel said. “But those defensemen, from the first day we got on the ice to where we are now, they’ve developed a lot. If we were playing RPI this weekend and it was just one week of practice, I’d be much more concerned. But, we’ve had a long time for those guys to adjust to playing at this level and playing at this speed. I expect that they’ll make mistakes, but they’ll continue to get better every day.”

Farmer, who logged an assist in the only tune-up prior to Friday’s season opener, expressed the feeling that the group of young Minutemen defensemen are coming along in their development.

“The game on Friday is obviously way more important [than the exhibition],” Farmer said. “It’ll be nice to get a feel for things and see how things are going to go this season. We have to work a bit harder this time and it’s definitely going to be a lot more competitive. [RPI] is a good team.”

The Engineers enter the weekend matchup coming off an exhibition victory of their own, as they look to bounce back from totaling six wins last season.

Getting the chance to host the opener at the Mullins Center should serve as an advantage for UMass and will allow the young defense a chance to refine its styles and solidify its roles.

“[Farmer] and [Marc Del Gaizo] are all elite defensemen and they’re coming in here with a little more expectations,” Carvel explained. “[Colin Felix] and [Kolby Vegara] are a different style defensemen. They’re bigger and they’re expected to play a heavier role. But I think the fact that we’re dressing four freshmen on Friday, that game is huge for them to get their feet under them.”

Although Carvel pointed out each of the freshmen’s major strengths on the ice, he expects all of the new skaters to improve the weaker aspects of their games as the regular season moves on.

“Marc and Ty are expected to be mobile, offensive-minded,” Carvel said. “But at the same time, we expect them to be good defensively and we expect Colin and Kolby to be offensive minded.”

Following practice on Tuesday leading up to the opener, Carvel, setting off on his third year with the program, said the Minutemen “have a fairly good idea of what RPI is going to try to do.

As the regular season progresses and the games gradually increase in importance, Carvel further noted the coaching value of meticulously pre-scouting opponents with as much video as possible.

With No. 1 Ohio State coming up next week, UMass’ season opener against RPI will be key in setting the Minutemen on an early path of success for the 2018-19 season. 

Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @_LiamFlaherty.

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