Josh Lopina dominates in weekend series against AIC

The sophomore recorded two goals and one assist

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Chris Tucci/ UMass Athletics

By Sophie Weller, Collegian Staff

A challenge to the American International College defenders on Friday and Saturday, Josh Lopina stepped onto the ice determined and made his presence known.

Deep in the first period, the puck swarmed the front of AIC (0-3) goaltender Jake Kucharski’s crease. Kucharski was able to swat it away a few times, but from the ground, Lopina saw an opening and took it. He slid the puck past the goal line and gave the Massachusetts hockey team  a 1-0 lead.

“He seems to score his goals in the same places … top of the slot in between the hash marks, slapping pucks in,” head coach Greg Carvel said. “I thought him and [Bobby Trivigno] were really good this weekend. They’re two of the top players in our league and we need them to be.”

With just a minute remaining in the game, Lopina’s efforts were the sole reason that UMass (2-2) remained in the lead. Matt Murray left the net to play the puck from behind but underestimated the power and helplessly watched it bounce away from him and in front of two Yellow Jacket players, giving them the opportunity to shoot on a wide-open net. From behind the play Lopina used speed and got a stick down, hitting the puck out of reach and eliminating the chance for a game-tying goal.

Lopina is a key member of the power play unit for UMass, using his size to get shots off in tight areas. In the second period of Saturday’s game, the first line was able to get four shots off in a row, with Lopina firing a rocket that narrowly missed and went out wide. He finished the night with 6 total shots.

Lopina’s impact on the ice spans far beyond his offensive capabilities. The sophomore won 19 face-offs, a vital stat for the Minutemen given that teammates Lucas Mercuri and Matt Baker were tied for the second highest number of wins at seven.

“He’s a face-off machine,” Bobby Trivigno said. “[Carvel] wants us to be ready off the face-off, and I’m ready, but I’m excepting him to win the draw at least 60-70 percent of the time and those are unreal numbers for a face-off.”

In Friday night’s game, Lopina found the back of the net, awarding UMass with its first win of the season. Matthew Kessel had the puck at the blue line and found Trivigno. Lopina was stationed in the middle, and after a quick pass from Trivigno, he took a one-touch shot that soared past the hands of Kucharski.

“He’s the type of guy that, I know if I give him the puck, he’s going to put it in the back of the net,” Trivigno said. “I know he’s going to work as hard as he can back on forechecks, whatever it is. Just a really smart, well-rounded player that has developed a lot over the summer.”

Lopina has three goals and one assist already this season, being one of the largest contributors on offense in just his second year in a Minutemen jersey.

In his freshman year, Lopina was the first player at UMass to earn Hockey East co-rookie of the year, having totaled nine goals and 14 assists throughout the season. Lopina will continue his career in California for the Anaheim Ducks following his time as a Minuteman.

“He’s grown a lot since last year,” Trivigno said. “He’s matured. He’s gotten way stronger. He’s a good all-around, two way forward that wins every single face-off and I love playing with him.”

Lopina and the Minutemen will spend the week preparing for an exhibition game against Dartmouth on Saturday. Their next regular season game will be against Merrimack on Friday, Oct. 29. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Sophie Weller can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @SophieeWellerr.