McCarthy: UMass needed to bounce back against AIC, and it did

Minutemen looked dominant against a solid Yellowjacket team

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Chris Tucci/ UMass Athletics

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

It was difficult to predict how the Massachusetts hockey team would look against American International College in its weekend series. No. 9 UMass’ (2-2) lineup has the potential to dominate teams, but its inexperience already proved to hurt it early in the season.

The Minutemen quickly showed which team they would be against the No. 20 Yellowjackets (0-3). As in, eight minutes and 37 seconds quickly.

UMass rattled off four goals, one after another, within the first nine minutes of the first period on Friday. That success gave it a shot in the arm that propelled it through the entire weekend. When all was said and done, the Minutemen outscored AIC 9-3 through the two-game sweep.

Scoring differential aside, UMass was an overwhelming force on Friday and Saturday. Even during the much tighter contest on Saturday, the Minutemen didn’t light up the scoresheet immediately, but by their offense out-shot the Yellowjackets 75-23 and were up 43-16 in shots on goal. That spoke volumes about their execution in both their offensive and defensive zones.

“It’s fair to say that [Friday’s] game was closer than the score, and I think [Saturday’s] game was not as close as the score,” head coach Greg Carvel said. “I thought we created a ton of offense tonight, out-shot them pretty badly.”

Overall, this was UMass’ brand of hockey. It got offensive production out of its backend and bottom-6 forwards, solid special teams and strong defensive zone play. The identity that the Minutemen are building towards took a giant leap forward over the last two weeks.

Every year it feels like UMass gets a jolt of energy from an early season weekend domination over a program. In the past, Union and Rensselaer have been on the receiving end of the routing, and last year with only Hockey East games on the schedule it was Vermont acting as the punching bag.

The significance of this weekend’s series, though, came from the strength of the opponent the Minutemen toppled. The Yellowjackets are not in the same league as any of the aforementioned teams. They are a well-coached team with a complete lineup and are ranked top-20 in the nation. UMass’ ability to sweep them with such authority was a statement to the rest of college hockey: the Minutemen are still a force to be reckoned with.

Looking back on last season’s series against the Catamounts, that confidence boost for the Minutemen came at a crucial time. They were coming off an underwhelming series against Merrimack and had a weekend off between that series and their series against Vermont, and Carvel has pointed to that moment a handful of times as one of the major turning points of last season. He took a step back and refocused the Minutemen and after that series they became dominant.

Now UMass’ 2021-22 season is very young, but this weekend against AIC has a lot of those same characteristics. The Minutemen were coming off a tough series against Minnesota State and had almost two weeks without games to prepare for their next challenge. Once again Carvel refocused his group, and once again they rose to the occasion.

To sit here and say that UMass is going to come out of this weekend in midseason form would be a lie. The Minutemen only have four games under their belt this season and Carvel made it abundantly clear after the game that there is still plenty of work to be done. But UMass has a lot of talent in its locker room, especially with the new faces it brought in. And when those freshmen and transfers are playing with confidence like they were this weekend, the results are staggering.

“We’re a work in progress, we’re a long way from where we need to be,” Carvel said. “But we got two wins this weekend and to me [they were] character wins.”

Now the Minutemen have another two weeks before their next series against the Warriors and are set for an exhibition with Dartmouth in between to keep their momentum intact. And if the past is any indication, the extra practice time will help bolster UMass’ already strong lineup.

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