UMass takes on AIC in regular season opener on Saturday

The Minutemen’s main focus is puck control heading into week one

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Dylan Nguyen/Daily Collegian (2023)

By Kayla Gregoire, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts hockey team has its hands full this week as it prepares for its first regular season matchup against American International College.

After the Minutemen’s exhibition game against Sacred Heart, head coach Greg Carvel saw many weaknesses in their game that would need to focused on in practice. The biggest mistake in the exhibition game was puck management. Players were constantly turning over the puck, which Sacred Heart was able to capitalize off of.

“I felt that all three of their goals, we just turned the pucks over, turned the pucks over, turned the pucks over,” Carvel said. “They would transition then score the goal, so I don’t feel like Sacred Heart did a lot to beat us. We beat ourselves with how we managed the puck.”

With eight new freshmen, UMass saw inexperience that needs to grow into the pace of college hockey. The freshmen were falling behind at points on Saturday, causing breakdowns in the Minutemen’s game. The new faces will continue to develop as the season goes along and AIC is the best time for them to get a taste of regular season hockey.

“It’s so many new players,” Carvel said. “We’re just in a phase right now where we have a lot of turnover.”

Despite freshmen falling behind, Kenny Connors was a bright spot for UMass, scoring a goal in the exhibition game. Tyson Dyck also scored in the shootout, showing his offensive upside in the game. If the freshmen can capitalize off of what they are learning in practices, then they have a chance to contribute against the Yellow Jackets.

The transfers have experience in college hockey, but need some time to adapt to the Hockey East pace. Sacred Heart and AIC are both non-conference opponents, but the games give them time to create chemistry with their teammates.

“You have to play the games,” Carvel said. “Practice just doesn’t do that, and you saw that on Saturday against Sacred Heart. I thought our returning players did a nice job playing to the standard and playing to our systems. Even the transfers looked nervous, and not unexpectedly.”

Josh Nodler, a Michigan State transfer, looked to gel quickly with his linemates on the ice against the Pioneers. The senior won seven of his 12 faceoffs while playing with the top line. Goaltender Cole Brady, an Arizona State transfer, looked comfortable in net on Saturday. Carvel says he has an idea of who will start in net against the Yellow Jackets after watching the exhibition game. Out of the goaltenders that played against Sacred Heart, Brady had the most saves with 10.

AIC has been overlooked by many hockey teams, but UMass knows that they will pose a challenge to them. Playing a short drive away from the Mullins Center allows many fans of the Minutemen come and support them, which helps UMass on the road.

“It’s fun to go play in the MassMutual Center and it’s somewhat of a home game, we get a lot of fans there,” Carvel said. “But you’re going to play a quality hockey team … It’ll be a good, close hockey game. It’s a really good team to play and I love what [AIC] has done down there.”

AIC is projected to be at the top of its division and has a handful of its coaches and staff returning for the season. In the 2021-22 season, the Yellow Jackets took home their fourth consecutive conference title under head coach Eric Lang. With all they have accomplished, they will be a good challenge for the Minutemen before their home opener.

“We haven’t looked too much into them,” Jerry Harding said on Tuesday. “Just kind of working on our own game. Working through some stuff and just trying to get some skating in and some hard work. Trying to focus in on our systems. Pretty sure we’ll get to them later in the week.”

UMass will take on AIC at the MassMutual Center on Saturday, Oct. 8. Puck drop is at 7:05 p.m.

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