UMass struck gold with its latest fourth line combination

George Mika’s addition to the unit has given it life in the last few games

Collegian+File+Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Colin McCarthy, Collegian Staff

In the Massachusetts hockey team’s weekend sweep over No. 16 UMass Lowell (3-3, 3-3 Hockey East), one thing in particular that stuck out was the improved play of the Minutemen’s fourth forward line.

After cycling through various iterations without much success, the latest combination of George Mika, Anthony Del Gaizo and Jerry Harding has quietly exceeded expectations for No. 10 UMass (11-5-3, 11-5-3 HEA).

“At one point it was just ‘go out there and don’t get scored against’,” coach Greg Carvel said of the fourth line on Friday. “But now they’re building energy shifts.”

Carvel went all-in on his energy line, electing to send out the fourth unit for the opening draw of the weekend to set the tone of the series, and the trio did just that in the first game of the weekend.

Mika seemed to be the catalyst in changing the course of that unit. He had trouble finding a role in the Minutemen lineup, but when Eric Faith got injured eight days ago against Providence, Mika stepped up to take his place and never looked back.

“We’ve been juggling people through the [fourth line] with Jerry Harding and Anthony Del Gaizo and George seems to be the best fit,” Carvel said. “They had two goals on the weekend, two huge goals.”

On Friday, Mika earned an assist throwing a one-handed pass to Harding for goal number one for the trio, on top of winning seven of his nine faceoffs. And in game two on Saturday night, he put his name on the scoresheet again, this time with a goal of his own to double UMass’ lead.

Del Gaizo initiated the scoring chance on Mika’s goal and was credited with an assist for it, meaning that the entire trio put their name on the scoresheet over the weekend. Although their impact on the ice stretches well beyond a goal or assist here and there.

“We rely on them to be physical guys and be hard to play against. Jerry’s a big strong kid, he gets around the ice really hard. [And] Anthony had a hell of a play, I think it was in the second period, where he took a really big hit to get the puck out of the zone,” Carvel said of the pair of wingers. “They’re just really high character kids that’ll do anything … They know what their role is and they take pride in it.”

For a Minutemen team that had already showcased their depth this season, the bottom line’s recent success puts UMass in a good position to succeed down the stretch, knowing that all four lines can be relied on to win battles in both the offensive and defensive zone.

“I don’t necessarily need the fourth line to score, I just want them to give us energy shifts and they’re doing that,” Carvel said. “It’s great for the unity of the team that all four lines can feel like they’re contributing at the end of the game.

“The depth of our lineup has proved to be invaluable.”

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