With Chaffee, Leonard and Suter gone, UMass prepares to find new ways to score

UMass must find a way to move on without their two leading scorers from last season

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(Nina Walat/Daily Collegian)

By Evan Marinofsky, Assistant Sports Editor

Mitchell Chaffee, John Leonard and Jack Suter combined for 86 points last season. They were catalysts for top-six scoring and their offensive wizardry was a large reason as to why the Massachusetts hockey team finished the 2019-20 campaign with 30 points in Hockey East, finishing only second to Boston College.

Yet gone are the days of Leonard’s slick end-to-end rushes, Chaffee barreling through three defenders to get a scoring chance and Suter’s impressive two-way game. Suter’s four years of college were up after last season. Chaffee and Leonard both signed with NHL clubs back in March – Chaffee to the Minnesota Wild, Leonard with the San Jose Sharks.

Now the Minutemen are faced with a question: who steps up to score?

“This is a different year,” head coach Greg Carvel said via Zoom Tuesday afternoon. “You won’t look at our scoresheet and one or two guys are going to be a mile ahead of everyone else. We’re going to have to really be a score by committee.”

When Carvel mentions a guy being a mile ahead of everyone, he’s talking about Leonard, who led the country with 27 goals last season. Chaffee also put up a solid season, finishing second on the team in points (29) which was still good enough to be nine points ahead of Zac Jones in third.

Suter wasn’t a monster production player like Leonard and Chaffee, though his 20 points tied for fourth on the roster. But his emergence as the team’s No. 1 center down the stretch proved to be his most valuable on-ice contribution.

With those three gone, it’s going to be up to players such as Oliver Chau, Philip Lagunov and captain Jake Gaudet to be the leaders on the offensive front.

“They’ve played a lot of hockey here,” Carvel said of the three seniors. “They’ve been complementary players and now need to step forward and be more consistent offensively.”

All three have shown signs they’re capable of living up to Carvel’s orders. Chau put up a career-high 24 points during his freshman season. Gaudet potted 22 points his sophomore season. Lagunov is a bit behind the other two, with a career-high of 15 points his sophomore year.

Only Chau was consistent offensively last season. Both Gaudet and Lagunov struggled to stay in the top-six all season and each put up only five points.

From the returning players in the top-six, the one who looks most primed to step up the scoring even more is Bobby Trivigno, who’s put up point totals of 28 and 20 in his first two seasons.

But there’s more than just the uncertainty of how COVID-19 impacts the team for Trivigno – he’s also lost both of his trusty linemates from last season in Suter and Leonard.

Through preseason practices, Trivigno has been playing with Oliver MacDonald and Josh Lopina – two freshmen.

“I didn’t even know them before they came here,” Trivigno said of his two new linemates. “But they’re both great players. Josh Lopina sees the ice well, very good forward, very good center. Wins all of his draws. And then I’m also playing with Oliver MacDonald right now, who is very fast, very similar to me. Plays gritty, he goes into the corner, gets to the dirty areas and works hard. But it’s been good, it’s definitely good to have some change in your life.”

As for the rest of the offense, Carvel feels as though there’s more than enough depth to make up for the abundant scoring of one or two players. The coach mentioned redshirt senior transfer Carson Gicewicz as someone who will play a large role up front. Lopina and MacDonald are also due to log minutes on the power play, as well as in the top-six.

“I like the depth of this team,” Carvel said. “You’re not going to probably see any Hobey Baker candidates out of the group.”

From the sophomore class, it’ll be Cal Kiefiuk and Reed Lebster looking to have bounce back years.

(Parker Peters/Daily Collegian)

“We’ll have four good lines that all can score any night,” Carvel said. “But how consistently can each line contribute? That’s going to be the key.”

In the event the Minutemen don’t get that consistent scoring, it does have one very reliable aspect of their game that is stacked: its defense. The defensive core is highlighted by five – yes, five – reliable mainstays: Marc Del Gaizo, Ty Farmer, Matthew Kessel, Colin Felix and Jones. Add on Linden Alger, Gianfranco Cassaro and Aaron Bohlinger battling for the sixth defensive slot, and UMass has itself a very stout defensive core.

Oh, and then Filip Lindberg and Matt Murray sharing the net.

“The top four teams in our league last year were the top four defensive teams,” Carvel said. “Offense doesn’t win, defense wins. We feel we’ve got two strong goaltenders, I really like our top four defensemen, I’m ecstatic at our back end, and then our forwards, as I said, they have to be able to contribute as a group.

“If we do all that, our goal is to be one of the top defensive teams in the conference. And if we do all that, good things could come from it.”

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