UMass hockey ‘living and learning’ from TD Garden letdown ahead of NCAA tournament tilt

Minutemen already adjusting for Harvard

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(Jon Asgeirsson/Daily Collegian)

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts hockey team is done and onto the next one.

UMass (28-9-0) has taken what it needed to learn from its 3-0 loss to Boston College last Friday and has already made adjustments in preparation for its NCAA tournament contest against Harvard later this week.

First on that list of alterations: being in Manchester, New Hampshire no longer than it has to be beforehand.

“We’re going to be as efficient as possible. We’re going in there at the last possible minute just before our practice,” coach Greg Carvel said. “[Associate head coach] Ben Barr had said when he was at Providence, they struggled too when they went too early.”

Ahead of their Hockey East semifinal bout with the Eagles last week, the Minutemen left for Boston on Wednesday, a day earlier than they normally leave for drivable road games. Add in a Hockey East awards ceremony on Thursday night and circumstances were anything but ordinary for UMass on the eve of its biggest game in over a decade.

“In retrospect, I wish we hadn’t gone Wednesday night,” Carvel said. “I wish we had skated here and traveled on Thursday to Boston, and then practiced and gone right to the banquet. But the consensus was it would be better for us to get there, get comfortable with the surroundings, skate an extra time on the smaller ice, but I guess live and learn.”

“Now we’ve got that experience to lean on in the future.”

Adjusting to an unfamiliar atmosphere quicker is next. Against BC, the Minutemen hadn’t played in a game of that magnitude in over a decade. None of the players on the roster had played at the TD Garden either and Carvel admitted to the guys having “big eyes” the entire game with the loud UMass crowd on hand.

The SNHU Arena will be a new environment, albeit not offering quite the same mystique as the home of the Boston Bruins but regardless, the Minutemen must find a way to acclimate to a foreign rink if they want to have a successful NCAA stint.

“I don’t imagine Manchester is going to be as overwhelming as that whole situation was last week,” Carvel said. “We’re hoping that we’ve learnt we’ve got that behind us. There were a lot of things [like that]. Like when we were rated No. 1 in the country, until you’re rated No. 1, you don’t know how to handle it and you lose the process and then you get slapped by Quinnipiac and then you realize ‘ok, let’s get back to business.’ We’ve done that all year and hopefully we do the same.”

Playing desperate hockey will also be key for UMass against the Crimson (19-10-3). The season hasn’t been in jeopardy until this point, as in if the Minutemen lose at any point from now on, their season ends.

“Desperate” has a bit of a negative connotation to it. In terms of this UMass team, if it finds itself behind or in some tough situations, it needs to play more desperately than it did versus the Eagles, and that includes within uncomfortable surroundings.

“You have a really good year and the one down side of that is you don’t play desperate down the stretch,” Carvel said. “You want your team playing at a certain desperation level and we haven’t had to and it’s just because we put ourselves too far ahead of the pack with a couple of weeks to go.”

With the situation itself and given how their last game played out, the Minutemen should have no problem getting up for its game with Harvard, but their experience at the Garden is just another example of a hardship UMass has undergone this season.

All that awaits is whether the Minutemen can respond, just has they had every other time this season.

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