Taylor Makar and Ryan Ufko display notable jumps in their second year at UMass

“They know how everything gets done around here”

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Dylan Nguyen/ Daily Collegian (2022)

By Sophie Weller, Assistant Sports Editor

With a team full of new faces and new styles of play, the importance of veteran players will be more important than ever for the Massachusetts hockey team, and sophomores Taylor Makar and Ryan Ufko are not taking this role lightly.

After ending the season seeing time in 19 games and recording one goal, Makar was expected to become a more permanent fixture in the lineup after losing so many key players up top.

“He’s a guy that we didn’t get a lot out of last year, and I take the blame for that because he’s a big kid, he skates really well, and I felt like he fell through the cracks last year,” head coach Greg Carvel said. “I made it one of my goals to make him a really critical, make him feel like an important part of the team, and so we’ve had a lot of discussions through the summer, through the fall.”

“We need him to find much higher levels, and he’s capable of it,” Carvel continued. “I think we’re very aware of it this year. Last year, we would have liked more out of him, but probably didn’t help him enough to find his way. And we’re changing that this year. I’m trying to do a better job with him.”

Makar saw a lot of time in the penalty box last season, amassing a total of six penalties for 12 minutes. With better control and a greater understanding of the game, Makar will look to make more of an impact on the ice while trying to stay out of the penalty box.

Makar spent his summer primarily focused on improving heading into the 2022-23 season, now aware of how the game is played at the collegiate level.

“Focus a lot on on-ice play, like down the corner stuff like that, [Carvel] talked a lot about working on those things,” Makar said. “So, I think a bigger jump is just I know what’s going to come at us and hopefully young guys get through the same as me here, taking the new, bigger steps.”

Throughout last season, Makar was not a permanent fixture in the lineup, feeling the pressures compared to what he experienced with Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

“When you transition to a new level, it’s always different, but I think it’s taking that time to work on the proper things,” Makar said. “It’s just stuff you go through, even through junior hockey, so it’s just that next step.”

As for Ufko, the sophomore defenseman made a quick impact on the team, often earning a starting role and being a key member on the powerplay and penalty kill. As a freshman, he tied for sixth in scoring across Hockey East defensemen with 22 points, and earned a Hockey East All-Star honorable mention.

“It’s definitely a big jump from coming in last year as a freshman, coming in now as a sophomore,” Ufko said. “[Carvel] always talks about how he feels that he’s really excited, always watch the sophomores come in because they know everything, they know all the standards. They know how everything gets done around here, so it’s a lot more comfortable out there.

As assistant captains last year, Matt Kessel and Colin Felix quickly became mentors for the new freshman defenders, specifically Ufko and Scott Morrow, who quickly earned spots in the top six. However, with both now playing professionally, Ufko has taken it upon himself to help the new players, like how he was aided last year.

“Trying to put the new guys in our shoes last year, just talking through everything,” Ufko said. “Kind of being a second coach to them and always being a shoulder to lean on.”

Ufko and Makar will take the ice for UMass in its first regular season game on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. against AIC at the MassMutual Center.

Sophie Weller can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @SophieeWellerr.