UMass hockey played its first game in eight months–without an audience

Minutemen fans instead attended the game in the form of cardboard cutouts

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UMass Athletics/Chris Tucci

By Colin McCarthy, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts hockey team picked up its first win of the season on Friday, but were not met with the normal cheering from the seats of the Mullins Center.

With COVID-19 continuing to impact college sports across the country, UMass (1-0, 1-0 Hockey East) hosted Connecticut (0-1, 0-1 HEA) in front of an empty stadium. The only faces lining the stands were cardboard cutouts purchased by fans.

Despite having no fans, the Minutemen cruised, taking the season opener by a score of 5-1.

Although unusual, the empty rows weren’t such an unfamiliar sight to head coach Greg Carvel. Just a few years ago he took over a Minutemen team that was underwhelming, and didn’t draw in high attendance.

“To be honest, it wasn’t too different from my first year coaching here,” Carvel said after the game. “Tonight there may have been more cardboard cutouts than there were at a couple of our games our first year.”

While Carvel may remember the days of playing in dead arenas, it hasn’t been that way for the past few seasons. Students and fans have consistently packed the Mullins Center since the 2018-19 season, which saw UMass make a national championship appearance.

That run was led by Hobey Baker award winner Cale Makar, who is no stranger to playing in empty stadiums himself, having finished off the NHL season in a bubble this past summer.

“I talked to Cale Makar this summer, I said ‘What’s it like playing without fans?’,” Carvel said “He said the first game they didn’t have any fan noise and then they got used to it and it just became the norm.”

Playing in front of a home crowd brings an extra level of energy to the game, but the Minutemen seemingly didn’t need that on Friday night. After a tight first two periods, UMass widened its gap in the third to finish on top.

“The fans are great, we miss them tremendously,” Carvel said. “But I didn’t really think that it affected our play at all.

“Whether there’s 10 or 10,000 [fans], you play hard.”

Colin McCarthy can be reached at [email protected] He can be followed on Twitter @colinmccarth_DC.