UMass looks to start its season Friday against UConn

Minutemen were originally scheduled to face Maine

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Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Noah Bortle, Sports Editor

In what’s sure to be an unpredictable season in Hockey East, the hockey gods wasted no time throwing a wrench in the Massachusetts hockey team’s plans.

When Hockey East’s schedule came out, UMass was set to start its season this weekend against Maine. Then, Wednesday afternoon, just two days before the puck was set to drop, Maine announced it would have to cancel the series.

“I’m still not 100 percent certain we’ll drop the puck on Friday night,” Minutemen head coach Greg Carvel said on Tuesday, before the decision was made. “That’s just the reality of it. We may be halfway there on a bus on Thursday and something may happen. It’s a time where teams that can be resilient, it’s going to be important, teams that can be flexible.”

Luckily UMass, with Maine unable to host home games, quickly found a new opponent. Late Wednesday, it was announced the Minutemen would take on Connecticut, who had lost its weekend’s games when Vermont paused winter sports.

While UMass wasn’t expecting to take on the Huskies this weekend, they might be better prepared than most would expect.

“I was talking to another coach this morning and we both had the same sentiment: never been this mentally exhausted in November,” Carvel said. “With everything we’ve had to juggle and work through, we’re at the point where we’re almost not concerned about our opponent. Let’s just get there, play hard, play right.”

The Huskies return its top goaltender Tomas Vomacka. A year ago, the Czech Republic native posted a .898 save percentage and 3.13 goals against average.

UConn’s special teams struggled last year with its power play ranking in the bottom 10 of the country and its penalty kill second worst in the nation.

If the Huskies struggle again killing penalties in 2020-21 it could offer a Minutemen powerplay that struggled last season an opportunity to get off to a strong start.

With all the uncertainty surrounding the season, UMass is eager simply to be playing hockey on Friday.

“It’s really exciting,” Junior forward Bobby Trivigno said. “It was definitely a long break from hockey, definitely the longest I’ve been away from the sport since I can even remember, so I’m super excited, I know all the guys are really excited to get rolling this weekend, and it should be a good one.”

If the Minutemen take the ice on Friday night, it will be its first game since March—over eight months ago. As Trivigno pointed out, the break represents the longest much of the team has been away from hockey in their careers.

“So I think [coming out flat] is from being mentally disengaged,” Trivigno said. “We’ve trained a lot so far, we’ve been practicing for weeks now so we’re definitely physically in shape, but it comes down to just being mentally dialed in. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing honestly, it matters what we’re doing every day and focusing on ourselves to make sure we prepare mentally for this game this weekend.”

“Nobody has played hockey for at least 8 months now, so it’ll be pretty interesting to see what happens this weekend,” Junior Marc Del Gaizo said.

It remains to be seen if UMass will take to the ice this weekend, but if so it will be the start of a new era. With John Leonard and Mitchell Chaffee—the team’s two leading scorers—moving on to the professional ranks, the Minutemen will be tasked with replacing the pair’s scoring.

Despite the changes and tumultuous offseason, UMass is simply excited to have an opponent lined up for the weekend and to get the 2020-21 season underway.

“UMass has done a tremendous job as far as testing, as far as protocols and we’ve been lucky that we’ve been basically living in a bubble here because there’s very, very few students on campus, so that’s allowed us to be very successful in working through the virus,” Carvel said. “We’re ready to play, we’re excited to play.”

Friday’s game is scheduled for a 6 p.m. puck drop at the Mullins Center, while Saturday’s game at UConn is scheduled for a 4 p.m. start.

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