Josh Lopina’s impact felt all over the ice in UMass loss

Even in defeat, Josh Lopina came up big for Minutemen

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Chris Tucci/UMass Athletics

By Evan Marinofsky, Assistant Sports Editor

As Josh Lopina got set to take a draw in the Boston College zone late in the second period, the Massachusetts hockey team was at its lowest. Jack McBain had just ripped a goal past Matt Murray’s blocker to put No. 2 BC (1-0) up 3-1, leaving the No. 7 Minutemen (1-1-1) defenders in the dust. UMass was on the brink of being on the bad side of a rout.

And then the Eagles took a penalty, leading Greg Carvel to deploy Lopina to take an important offensive zone faceoff against McBain – BC’s No. 1 center.

Lopina won it on his forehand back to Colin Felix, who took a stride to his right and fired one towards the net. Lopina, the freshman center, batted it down out of mid-air and past phenom goalie Spencer Knight to get UMass to within a goal.

It was a large temporary shift in momentum.

“I had a feeling he was going to be this for us watching him the last two years in the USHL,” Carvel said of Lopina after the 4-3 loss via Zoom.

Just over a minute later, Lopina once again found himself in the right spot when linemate Oliver MacDonald slid the puck into the crease. Even with three BC defenders around him, Lopina was still able to get his stick on it and angle it towards the empty goal.

Tie game.

Both plays showcased Lopina’s ability to impact a game. The first sequence had the freshman winning a key draw, getting to the net and making a smart tip. The second saw him in the right place at the right time.

“He’s just a freshman,” Carvel said of Lopina. “Doesn’t play like a freshman.”

Even though UMass ultimately fell short and dropped the first half of a home-and-home with BC, Lopina’s stellar play didn’t stop with the second goal.

Midway through the second period with the Eagles ahead by a goal, Lopina fought hard against Michael Karow along the boards in the BC zone. The two opposing players went back and forth, as Lopina controlled the puck with Karow a few inches behind him.

Both players are listed at 6’2”, but Karow is a bit sturdier, weighing in at 210 lbs while Lopina checks in at 194. As Lopina tried to go back towards the corner, Karow held onto the freshman just enough to be sent to the penalty box.

UMass didn’t convert on the ensuing power play, but Lopina drawing that penalty came at the right time for the Minutemen.

Through three games this season, Lopina sees time in all situations – he’s just as likely to get shifts on the penalty kill as he is on the power play.

“He just does a lot of things right,” Carvel said of Lopina. “Plays hard, makes plays, shoots the puck a ton, is around the net. Just a real good player.”

In his media availability in the week leading up to Friday night’s game against BC, Carvel mentioned Lopina’s impressive night at the faceoff dot in last Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to UConn. The freshman went 17-for-19.

So, it was no surprise to see Carvel tap Lopina on the shoulder to take the offensive zone draw with 8.9 seconds left, Murray pulled and the Minutemen down a goal.

“He wins faceoffs,” Carvel said. “He’s reliable.”

It’s that kind of reliability that Carvel has consistently looked for in his players throughout his time as UMass head coach.

And it appears as though Friday night will be far from the last time Carvel turns to Lopina in a big situation.

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