UMass hockey gears up for matchup with American International

AIC comes in 1-2 on the season

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(Nina Walat/Daily Collegian)

By Evan Marinofsky, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts hockey team is riding high as they prepare to face American International on Friday night.

No. 3 UMass (3-1, 0-1 Hockey East) enters the game fresh off two big wins over Union this past weekend when they outscored them 11-1. With the team riding high, head coach Greg Carvel elected to give the team a break on Monday.

“They took [Monday] off the ice,” Carvel said. “Four games in eight days, so I gave them a little rest yesterday and a real good practice [Tuesday]. Real good, physical, competitive battle practice.”

AIC (1-2, 1-0 Atlantic Hockey) enters Friday’s game fresh off a 2-1 win over Sacred Heart last Friday. Prior to that, they suffered two straight 3-2 losses to Quinnipiac.

“I’ve watched one of their games,” Carvel said. “They’ve got good skill level. They’ll be the best team we’ve played thus far at home. They’ll be a good test. They’re an NCAA level team. They play with a lot of pace, good skill level. They play fast hockey. They’re very similar to what we play so it’ll be a real good challenge.”

The Yellow Jackets haven’t had the hottest of starts – through three games, they’ve only found the back of the net six times. In comparison, the Minutemen have 17 goals in four games.

Despite that, there’s a lot of truth to Carvel calling them the best team the Minutemen will have played at home thus far. AIC was the best team in Atlantic Hockey last season and won the conference championship. That gave them an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, paving the way for them to upset No. 1 St. Cloud State in the first round.

“They’re a good team,” junior Jake Gaudet said. “They made the tournament last year. They upset St. Cloud State and we’ve played them in the past. They’re a team we’re looking forward to playing again and you can’t take them for granted because they’re a good team.”

When both teams faced off last season, the Minutemen trounced the Yellow Jackets 6-1.

A point of emphasis for Friday night’s game will be special teams. The Minutemen have racked up a large total of 42 penalty minutes this season and AIC’s scored three of their six goals on the man-advantage.

Where the biggest clash takes place is that while AIC has been solid on the power play, UMass is a perfect 19-for-19 killing penalties.

“Combination of a little more aggressive philosophy,” Carvel said when talking about what’s made the penalty kill a success. “The forwards up front – we’ve added John Leonard and Oliver Chau who’ve proven to be very good killers to add to our mix. You get those three things and it’s worked well for us. We’ve got to keep the special teams high.”

Not to be forgotten is the impact the coaching staff has had on the penalty kill.

“We just stick to our system,” junior Philip Lagunov said of the penalty kill. “We have our own thing and we just have to focus on ourselves. We have [Jared DeMichiel] and [Ben Barr] working the magic so we do what we’re told.”

The Minutemen plan to welcome back their best d-man in Marc Del Gaizo for Friday’s game.

Carvel didn’t hold back when explaining his impact on the team.

“He adds to the offense,” Carvel said. “He’s competitive, he’s real good in his own end. Just a complete player that will really add to everything – power play, penalty kill, 5-on-5. He makes us a better team.”

UMass takes on AIC this Friday at the Mullins Center. Puck drop is slated for 7 p.m.

Evan Marinofsky can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @emarinofsky.