UMass wants to take one game at a time heading into the NCAA tournament

The Minutemen think of tournament games as any other game

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Dylan Nguyen / Daily Collegian

By Kayla Gregoire, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts hockey team won the Hockey East championship on Saturday, but it must shift its focus onto something bigger–the NCAA tournament.

The Minutemen (22-12-2, 14-8-2 HEA) will head into the tournament in the same position they were last year, winning the Hockey East championship before heading into the NCAA tournament. With the excitement around winning a championship trophy it can be hard to focus on the task at hand.

“We have just another game on Friday night,” head coach Greg Carvel said. “They’re all the same. You win and you move on. Saturday night seems like a long time ago right now, so, I’ll be honest, I don’t know where the trophy is, but it’s the least of my worries right know. I know where our team will be at 3:00 p.m. today. We’ll be working hard, working on our preparation to play a very good Minnesota team.”

Players prefer this approach to games because it helps the team not overthink about what they are doing with the puck. If the Minutemen allow the pressure of a playoff environment to get to their heads, it will show on the ice.

“Obviously [the NCAA tournament] is a big part of the year and a special time of the year, but you can’t think about anything different than if you were to go into any other game,” Cal Kiefiuk said. “That’s when you grip the stick too tight and you start making mistakes, so you’ve just got to treat it as any other game and continue to play our game.”

When UMass played in the NCAA tournament last year, it did not let the excitement of winning a championship before the tournament blind them from achieving its goal of winning the national championship. In the Minutemen’s first NCAA tournament game last season, they won in impressive fashion, defeating Lake Superior State 5-1.

The difference from that game to now is that UMass is a very different team than the 2021 championship team. Josh Lopina and Anthony Del Gaizo scored in the Lakers game, but the Minutemen have a new starting goaltender for the playoffs and players that have never experienced the intensity of the NCAA tournament.

Being the freshmen’s first NCAA tournament, they don’t want to allow the hype of the tournament to make them overthink what they do on the ice. Players like Ryan Ufko want to stick to what they typically do in practice because, like Carvel and Kiefiuk have both said, overthinking will lead to mistakes.

“It’s really exciting,” Ufko said about heading into the tournament “A couple years ago, you’re always watching the tournament. I was hoping UMass would do really well when I was committed here and they did, especially last year. I’m looking forward to continuing that.”

Many of the freshmen have had to sit through the celebrations from UMass’ national championship run from last year. Despite winning their own championship on Saturday, the underclassmen don’t want to settle for just the HEA championship this time around.

“We try not to think about [the HEA championship] too much,” Ufko said. “We don’t want to be satisfied. [The upperclassmen] won last year, and we have to defend that championship this year and that’s what we’re focused on.”

On the other hand, many seniors have been in this position before and are looking to dive deeper into how to play against the Gophers (24-12, 18-6 Big Ten), a team that is outside of their conference.

“It’s always different when you play someone from a different conference and I think we just have to rely on our systems and our game and just [do] what we need to do,” Garrett Wait said.

Going into the game against Minnesota, the Minutemen are seen as the underdogs, but they want to use that to their advantage. Last year, UMass was in that same boat with low expectations for it to succeed.

“I kind of like that we’re going in as the underdog, but at the same time we are the defending champions and we’ll do everything we can to defend another title,” Carvel said.

UMass will travel to the DCU Center in Worcester to take on Minnesota in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Puck drop will be at 6:00 p.m.

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