Eric Faith embracing his new role on UMass’ top line

Junior stepping up in Josh Lopina’s absence

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Luis Ramirez/ Daily Collegian

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

Since joining Bobby Trivigno and Garrett Wait’s line early in the 2020-21 season, he proved to be a dominant force for the Massachusetts hockey team. Now with Lopina out of the lineup, Eric Faith is stepping up to his new role as the top line center.

Faith provides a similar play style to Lopina’s. He has a strong offensive presence, sound defensive details and a knack for gritty faceoff wins. That combination allowed the junior to fit right in alongside Wait and Trivigno.

“[Faith] is a good player,” Trivigno said of Faith on Friday. “He plays fast, wins a lot of his draws, just a good all-around smart player … you can just see his speed, very fast player, I’ve liked playing with him so far.”

Faith has been climbing up the lines all season long, starting on the third line and scoring the first goal of the season for No. 12 UMass (6-2, 4-0 Hockey East). His activity in the offensive zone continued when he moved up to the second line slotting in between Cal Kiefiuk and Reed Lebster. Now on the top line, Faith is still making his impact felt. He finished the weekend with a 52.8 percent faceoff win percentage, including 9-of-14 wins on Friday.

“We need guys to step up with the injuries of good players on our team,” head coach Greg Carvel said Friday. “We knew we had good depth this year … Eric Faith playing on the first line center role did a great job on the faceoff dot, played hard.”

Carvel has leaned on his top two forward lines through the first six games of the season to take some of the pressure off his freshmen forwards as they try to get their feet under them during the transition to college hockey. Once Lopina went down as a late scratch before Saturday’s game against Merrimack, the temporary solution to his void at center was Anthony Del Gaizo, a veteran that Carvel can count on to provide physicality and experience in a pinch.

The downside to Del Gaizo on the first line is that he did not play special teams against the Warriors. Carvel instead used Wait as a center on the power play unit and rotated in a few other forwards like Cam Donaldson on the man advantage. On the penalty kill it was Wait with Trivigno and no true center.

Faith on the other hand has the offensive and defensive skill to play on the top special teams lines the way Lopina did. He paired with the Minutemen captain on the penalty kill and was deployed on the top power play unit with the rest of the line. The Minutemen didn’t score any goals on their extra man opportunities Saturday, but Faith provided a sense of stability with his ability to stay on the top line for all three phases.

So, while Lopina is a huge loss, UMass will remain steady having a smart, skilled and athletic player like Faith running the point on its top line.

“He played big, he played hard, he played heavy,” Carvel said Saturday. “This is a kid that’s game has grown a lot. He hardly played his freshman year, got dealt with a bunch of injuries since he’s been here … I thought Eric was outstanding this weekend, he did all the small dirty things, attention to detail, all the things that most fans probably don’t see but coaches really respect.”

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