Flaherty: Grinder win good for UMass, freshmen in first game

Minutemen were challenged in first live action of the season

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Flaherty: Grinder win good for UMass, freshmen in first game

By Liam Flaherty, Assistant Sports Editor

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It wasn’t exactly the start the Massachusetts hockey team was looking for in Friday’s season opener.

In front of an energized crowd following the banner ceremony commemorating last year’s Frozen Four run, UMass came flat out of the gate. With several turnovers in their own end and sloppy passing during the first 20 minutes of action, the Minutemen (1-0) got out to a bit of a sluggish start against Rensselaer.

Trailing by a goal after the Engineers (0-1) scored in the final 30 seconds of the opening frame, No. 4 UMass responded to the adversity of their slow start with three-straight goals in the second, before RPI cut the deficit in half in the third, turning it into a one-goal game with 10 minutes remaining.

For coach Greg Carvel and the Minutemen, especially the first-year guys, without arguably their top defenseman Marc Del Gaizo in the lineup, it was better to grind it out than steamroll the Engineers. Instead of running away with the game, UMass was unexpectedly forced to dig deep to earn the win.

“Everyone would kind of like to run away with it,” Mitchell Chaffee said. “But it’s the opening game of the season and not everything’s going to be clicking your way right away, so it was a good adjustment.”

“I think it’s good that we were pushed,” Carvel said after the 5-3 win. “It’s a one-goal game with ten minutes to go. We didn’t give up too much and found a way to score that fifth goal on the empty net, but I agree. We went into this game, polls don’t mean anything, but I needed to find out what we are.”

It’s not too shocking things got off to a slow start with nine freshman joining the team. Plus, that adversity allows the Minutemen to grow.

“It took a little while to get the rust off,” Carvel added. “But I thought we responded very well in the second period — I thought we were really taking the game over. Third period, the first ten minutes things were fine, but then what we realized with this team this year [is that] every detail needs to be covered.”

Freshmen Cal Kiefiuk, Zac Jones and Reed Lebster combined for five points in the home- and season-opener, but outside of the offensive production, the style of the game forced them to face their weak spots early. Instead of Tuesday against a team like Northeastern, they know what needs to improve.

Aside from the X’s and O’s, it was good for the freshman to get familiar with the pace of the game.

“[You] can’t cheat the game,” Carvel said, “or your cheating the team and you just can’t do that. That’s for all the freshman. We saw it out of all of them. That’s why I was excited to play just so these kids can start learning the intensity. You can’t have any casualness in your game. Every single puck matters, every pass needs to be executed, every check needs to be finished. We’ve got a lot of room for growth there.”

What UMass learns from Saturday’s grinder win will show in Tuesday’s road matchup with the 15th-ranked Huskies.

With a young team, lessons tend to come early and often, and they did.

“It’s a big class,” Carvel said. “It’s about a third of our team, so we need those kids to figure it out. They’re all capable, but I’m glad we got a game under our belt and now we can move forward.”

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