A look into the Friendship Four tournament

How the field stacks up in Ireland

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Maya Greer/Daily Collegian (2021)

By Matt Skillings, Collegian Staff

For the first time since 2016, the Massachusetts hockey team is heading to Northern Ireland for the annual Friendship Four midseason college hockey tournament.

Typically played during Thanksgiving weekend, the Friendship Four hasn’t taken place since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The field this year consists of the Minutemen (6-5-1, 2-5-0 Hockey East), along with UMass Lowell, Quinnipiac University and Dartmouth.

Let’s take a look at how the teams stack up heading into the weekend.

UMass Amherst

After what was one of the best starts to a season in program history, the play of the Minutemen has taken a sharp turn in the month of November. UMass has a 1-4 record since the onset of the month, losing twice to Providence College and twice to Boston University. The Minutemen picked up their first win of the month last Friday when they defeated UNH 4-2 in Durham.

Despite taking the ice on another continent, UMass’ first game against UMass Lowell (8-5-0, 5-3-0 HEA) will have very real implications on the HEA standings. Heading into the weekend, the Minutemen sit firmly in eighth place in HEA, with a dismal 2-5 record. While a potential matchup with No. 4 Quinnipiac would be a great test for UMass, the most important part of the weekend will be taking three points from the River Hawks. UMass cannot afford to drop many more conference games if it wants to have any chance of reaching a high enough seed in the division to be hosts in the HEA playoffs.

For head coach Greg Carvel, the biggest emphasis for his team will be to focus on bonding as a group and experiencing a new culture.

“You can’t go over there focused on hockey, you have to go over there and take in all the excellent opportunities that are there,” Carvel said. “When we’re in the rink, we’ll focus on hockey, but when we’re outside the rink we’re going to really focus on the life experience and the opportunity to bond as a team.”

UMass Lowell

The River Hawks enter the Friendship Four with an overall record of 8-5, and a 5-3 record in HEA play. With wins against top teams in both HEA and nationally, Lowell has shown that they can hang with any team.

Defense and strong goaltending have carried UMass Lowell to its strong record up to this point in the season. Through 13 games, the River Hawks have not allowed more than four goals in a game and have not been defeated by more than two goals. Lowell is one of five teams in the country to allow less than two goals per game and it also boasts a top-10 penalty kill nationally.

The goaltending tandem of Henry Welsch and Gustavs Davis Grigals has been phenomenal, with each net minder posting a GAA of below 2.00 and a save percentage above .930. Welsch has started nine of the River Hawks 13 games and has only allowed 14 total goals in his time in net. He ranks No. 6 in the country in save percentage (.935) and No. 9 in GAA (1.76).

“Got a lot of grudge matches with [Lowell],” Carvel said. “They’re going to be hungry and we’re going to need to watch it. Have a lot of respect for Lowell and the way they play and compete. We’re going to have to bring our best to outcompete them.”

Quinnipiac

Quinnipiac (9-1-0, 6-0-0 ECAC) will head overseas with the strongest resume of any of the teams in the tournament. The Bobcats are ranked No. 4 in the most recent USCHO poll and have only lost one game this season.

Since its first and only loss this season against Maine, Quinnipiac has won seven straight games. Six of the seven wins have come against ECAC opponents, giving the Bobcats a perfect 6-0 record within their conference. Like the UMass-UMass Lowell game, Quinnipiac’s matchup with Dartmouth will have implications on the ECAC standings. The Bobcats will be looking to extend their conference win streak to seven against the Big Green.

Starting goalie Yaniv Perets has been a standout for the Bobcats this season, posting a GAA of 1.82 and a save percentage of .924. The sophomore was named to the East second team by the NCAA last season as a freshman and has continued his stellar play into the 2022-2023 campaign.

Dartmouth

Dartmouth (1-4-1, 1-3-1 ECAC) has played just six games heading into Thanksgiving weekend and has faced early struggles this season. The Big Green are 1-4-1 heading over to Northern Ireland, with their only victory coming against Yale by a score of 6-0. Outside of the win, Dartmouth has been outscored 19-7 in their four losses, including an 8-3 defeat to Army.

Offensively, the Big Green have been led by freshman Luke Haymes, who has five goals through the teams first six games. Haymes has scored in four of six and leads the team in goals scored by a large margin.

For Dartmouth, a matchup with Quinnipiac gives them the opportunity to play spoiler to the top dog in the ECAC. A win or even a well-played loss against a streaking team could give the Big Green some momentum heading into their Saturday matchup and beyond.

The tournament will commence with Quinnipiac-Dartmouth on Friday at 9 a.m. eastern time. UMass versus UMass Lowell will take place Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. eastern time. Both games will be streamed on NESN+. The consolation game will be played at 10 a.m. eastern time Saturday and the championship will be played later that day at 2 p.m. eastern time.

Matt Skillings can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at matt_skillings.