This weekend could be huge for Philip Lagunov

Lagunov will be the top line center in captain Jake Gaudet’s absence on Friday

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Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Colin McCarthy, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts hockey team is slated for a home-and-home against Providence this weekend. For the first game it will be without captain Jake Gaudet, who is serving a one-game suspension for a hit that disqualified him from Monday’s contest at Boston University.

Gaudet’s absence from the lineup on Friday could have some implications on UMass’ lines going forward, particularly for senior Philip Lagunov.

Lagunov has been in and out of the lineup for the Minutemen, something coach Greg Carvel does routinely when he wants to get more out of a player. Carvel did this at the beginning of the year with Ty Farmer, and the message was received.

For Lagunov though, this has happened multiple times throughout the season. He has bounced around the lineup more than any other UMass player, skating on the first, third and fourth lines at different points, in addition to being a healthy scratch four times and being listed as the extra skater for another.

On Monday, after Gaudet’s penalty, it was Lagunov who took shifts with the top line, and that is going to continue on Friday against the Friars.

“We’re going to slide Phil Lagunov up to fill that hole,” Carvel said on Tuesday. “He’s kind of been the odd man out, but his game has come around recently.”

Lagunov’s performance could have a major ripple effect on the rest of his season. If he performs well enough on the top line, there is a chance that he could earn an extended stay there. Or at the very least he could earn a more permanent place in the lineup than he had.

“We tell these kids all the time, you’ll get your chance,” Carvel said. “He’s got a chance to play with Oliver Chau and Carson Gicewicz who are two really good offensive players, and I think they’re excited to play with him. I think they liked what they did in the third period.”

Much like Matt Murray got a chance to own the net in Filip Lindberg’s absence, Lagunov now has an opportunity to grab a larger role in the offense. And no matter what circumstances caused it, his teammates are rooting for him this weekend.

“It’s awesome, [Lagunov] is a very good two-way center, and honestly I think he plays a similar game to [Gaudet],” assistant captain Bobby Trivigno said. “So seeing him fill that spot, I’m really excited for him and I have no doubt that he’ll play really well.”

And the opportunity comes at a perfect time for Lagunov, as the lineup will be getting more depth in the coming weeks. Reed Lebster is still working his way back from an injury, but when he returns Carvel wants him on the opposite wing of Cal Kiefiuk on the third line.

Once that happens, freshman Oliver MacDonald will likely enter the fourth line mix with Lagunov, as well as Anthony Del Gaizo, Jerry Harding and Ryan Sullivan. So this weekend will be big for Lagunov and his place in the lineup in the future.

“He’s been a great part of our culture and team,” Carvel said. “I hope I got another guy that makes it really hard for me to make decisions because too many players are doing a good job.”

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