Linden Alger is taking advantage of his moment

Alger scores first career goal against Union

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Dylan Nguyen/Daily Collegian (2022)

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

With under 10 seconds left and with a 6-1 lead, the Massachusetts hockey team was ready to coast to a victory over Union on Friday. The Dutchmen (2-4-1) took their foot off the gas expecting the No. 6 Minutemen (3-0-1) to hold onto the puck and wind the clock down.

Linden Alger wasn’t done playing, though.

The junior defenseman was firing shots all night long trying to generate offense either for himself or others. And just before the final horn sounded, Alger wound up and fired the puck past Union’s goaltender. The bench immediately erupted.

“That’s awesome for him, the whole team was pumped,” sophomore Taylor Makar said. “I’m sure there’s more to come for him.”

The goal was meaningless to the final outcome; it changed a 6-1 win into a 7-1 game on the final stat sheet. But it was meaningful to him personally, and to the team as a whole. Alger is one of UMass’ favorite teammates.

“Linden [Alger] is probably the most liked guy on the team,” Carvel said. “He’s the glue, he’s that guy that everybody just really enjoys. For two years he hasn’t played much, so when he scores everybody gets excited.”

Ahead of his third year, Alger carved out a role in the backend after two seasons of hardly seeing any game action. He plays alongside freshman Noah Ellis on the Minutemen’s third defensive pairing. Carvel sees a lot of potential in the group, but with such little game experience, Alger and Ellis have been slow to make an impact.

Carvel challenged Alger in the offseason. The landscape of the UMass defense was unclear outside of the top four, and with so many new faces entering the program, there was room for Alger to claim a consistent spot in the depth chart. In terms of the number of years under Carvel, Alger and Aaron Bohlinger are the Minutemen’s two most experienced defensemen.

Now that Alger is playing in games, he’s getting more and more comfortable by the minute. He knows his role is to be a scary defender that plays with his body, and that’s exactly what he set out to do this season.

“I challenged him to be a big, strong kid,” Carvel said. “I said ‘you should have a attitude on the ice.’ And, of course, you have to have more than an attitude, you have to be able to execute and move the puck.”

The first four games of the season showed some ups and downs in Alger’s game; the defenseman mishandled the puck a few times early on leading to turnovers. But once the nerves settled, he quickly became a sounder, smarter defender. His breakouts of the defensive zone have been quicker and his shot taking from the blue line provides more offense for an already potent UMass attack.

“His game has evolved here pretty quicky,” Carvel said. “I wasn’t happy with his first couple games, but he’s starting to be the hockey player that we think he can be, and hopefully he keeps continuing with that.”

As Alger gets more experience and more comfortability, his role in the backend is growing more and more secure. Carvel is never shy to play around with lines when he feels a shake-up is necessary, but for now he’s turning the reigns of the bottom pairing over to Alger and Ellis.

“I think he can grow into being, him and Noah Ellis, a good 5-6 with that size,” Carvel said of Alger. “He’s got a long way to go and so does [Ellis], but it’s exciting because they can be better.”

No matter how little of an affect it had on Friday’s game, every single Minuteman was excited to see Alger leading the skate down the bench for his first career goal. From seniors that have seen Alger since the moment he stepped on campus, to freshmen who just met him over the summer, the appreciation UMass hockey has for the junior is clear.

“Everybody loves [Alger],” freshman forward Kenny Connors said. “He’s one of the best guys on the team, he’s a really nice guy. I didn’t even know it was his first, but it was a really good shot.”

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