Kolby Vegara taking advantage of his chance

‘If you ever told me I was going to play Kolby Vegara on the third line … I’d say, ‘we’re in trouble’’

Collegian+File+Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Noah Bortle, Assistant Sports Editor

Kolby Vegara had himself a whirlwind of a week.

Last Thursday, a day before the Massachusetts hockey team’s matchup with UConn, Vegara found himself on the outside of the team’s projected lineup looking in—as he had for 29 of 31 games to that point. Then, Friday, junior center George Mika fell ill, necessitating Vegara become UMass’ (20-11-2, 13-8-2 Hockey East) extra skater due to a lack of healthy forwards.

Things really started to pick up for the sophomore defenseman when Jeremy Davidson suffered an injury midway through Friday night’s contest. Having appeared in just 16 games as a Minuteman up to that point—all as a defenseman—Vegara was forced onto UMass’ fourth line as a winger.

“We are slotting guys wherever we need,” senior Jake McLaughlin said. “If you can tie your skates, then you’re going.”

Saturday night, Vegara filled the role of the extra skater with George Mika returning from his sickness. But once again, fate would have it that the Malden native would be forced into action. Mika went to the ice with a lower-body injury in the first period and Vegara plugged into the Minutemen’s lineup for the second time in two nights.

Soon, coach Greg Carvel would shorten his lines, opting to roll with just nine forwards. With nine true forwards still healthy, Carvel instead went with the player who, until a day before, had never skated on the UMass wing.

“If you ever told me I was going to play Kolby Vegara on the third line playing for second place, I’d say, ‘we’re in trouble,’” Carvel said. “But he deserved it, he went out and had a great shift and then he kept doing it.”

It seemed that shift after shift, Vegara was laying a big hit on a Huskie to send the bench into hysterics—and provide much-needed energy to players who had logged heavy minutes.

The move is something his fellow D-men didn’t see coming but is one they were happy to see.

“It’s awesome,” McLaughlin said. “We love to see Kolby out there. He obviously doesn’t get to play many games, so it’s great to see him on the ice and everyone on the team loves him so we’re trying to help him out.”

“It’s a chance to get an opportunity this season and they’re making the most of it,” sophomore D-man Ty Farmer said. “Kolby Vegara, I couldn’t be more happy for him. Not a guy that plays a ton, but great friend of mine, he deserves it.”

Beyond excitement for his teammate and friend, Farmer can also offer Vegara some help on the transition.

Playing in the USHL, Farmer bounced between three teams in three seasons, struggling to find a foothold. Farmer found himself caught between the third defensive pairing and being the seventh defenseman, left out of the lineup for stretches.

Farmer was then given the chance to break into the lineup.

“I’ve been there,” Farmer said. “In juniors, the same situation happened to me. It’s a weird adjustment.”

Farmer clearly didn’t stick as a forward—he proved too valuable as a defenseman—but Vegara might.

“It’s funny, but you’ll always get your chance,” Carvel said, “you just never know and sometimes it takes a long time…He’ll play forward for now, until somebody outplays him.”

But for now, Vegara’s future role will be put on the backburner as UMass suits up for its final regular-season game against Vermont on Thursday.

The Minutemen seem optimistic Mitchell Chaffee will return to the lineup, but with playing time on the wing still up for grabs UMass will ride Vegara as long as he’s making a positive impact.

“We’re trying to scrap together a lineup,” McLaughlin said, “and then scrap together some wins.”

Noah Bortle can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @noah_bortle.