UMass hockey fights through adversity using the support system around it

Injuries provide opportunity for some Minutemen while others try to stay positive through their recovery

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Kira Johnson/ Daily Collegian

By Kayla Gregoire, Collegian staff

The Massachusetts hockey team has dealt with adversity since the start of the season. It first was swept by Minnesota State in its opening series and lost out on a series against Union because of COVID-19. The one that stung the most for the Minutemen (10-4-2,7-2-2 Hockey East) was losing many players throughout the first half of the season due to injuries.

After its first series against Merrimack, UMass lost a key forward to their lineup, Josh Lopina. Without Lopina the Minutemen were missing a key faceoff man and a player that will generate offense as well as play on the top special team units.

After Lopina, UMass’ injury list started to become longer each series. Other top forwards including Cal Kiefiuk, Garret Wait, Oliver MacDonald, and Eric Faith were out for games at a time. There were points in the season where the Minutemen did not have a full lineup and were using defensemen Ty Farmer as a forward.

Some Minutemen used the injuries as an opportunity to prove themselves to head coach Greg Carvel.  Freshmen Ryan Lautenbach and Lucas Mercuri were moved to the first line with captain Bobby Trivigno to gain more experience. Taylor Makar played on the fourth line compared to the beginning of the season where he saw no playing time. Defensemen Linden Alger also saw some more playing time, both as a defenseman and forward.

“You’ve got to quickly turn injuries into opportunities for other players,” Carvel said. “I think [Lautenbach] is the most improved player on our team. Scott Morrow has come a long way. Ryan Ufko has come a long way.”

Carvel saw injuries as a way to push the less experienced guys into becoming better players. The player that grew the most during that time was Morrow. Towards the beginning of the season Carvel thought Morrow needed to grow more as a player, but now the freshman has become one of UMass’ top offensive defensemen.

As the healthy Minutemen saw opportunities, the injured Minutemen were stuck watching from the sidelines. They used the support of their teammates to help them get through the tough times.

“Never really had a major injury in my career before, so that was kind of a first time through that for me. The guys kept my spirits high,” Lopina said.

Injured players like Lopina used the time off the ice to use some time in the gym to keep their conditioning up. While teammates skated on the ice, the injured players could be found in the gym lifting weights, riding bikes for cardio and working with their strength coach to eventually get back on the ice with their team.

“I had a couple pins sticking out of my hand for a while so couldn’t do much with the arms or upper body, but we made it work. I feel like I am in a pretty good spot now,” Lopina said.

Trivigno stepped up as captain during the players injuries with his support. As a friend and a teammate, he knew how hard it was for the players to go through their injuries. Assistant captains Colin Felix and Matthew Kessel also provided a strong support system.

“No one really gets left behind here, and I felt that love the whole time I was hurt,” Lopina said.

Most of the Minutemen were back on the ice for their non-conference game against Merrimack on Monday. Lopina and Wait were put back into their places on the first line and MacDonald slotted into the third line with Lautenbach and Mercuri.

“It’s definitely big [having injured guys return to the lineup],” Kessel said. “We haven’t still lost a game in regulation since the first weekend, so I think that’s a pretty good step towards that.”

Faith, though he is healthy, was not able to be back for the game due to COVID-19 protocols. Other players were also put out due to COVID-19, so the Minutemen have not seen what their full healthy lineup looks like yet.

UMass will travel to Ann Arbor, Mich. to play a weekend series against No. 3 Michigan Saturday Jan. 8 at 5 p.m. and Sunday Jan. 9 at 4 p.m.

Kayla Gregoire can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @kaygregoire.