Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass hockey’s seniors went out on top against Northeastern on Friday

Cal Kiefiuk, Eric Faith, Reed Lebster and Jerry Harding all leave Amherst as national champions
Dylan Nguyen/Daily Collegian (2023)

Before every game, Cal Kiefiuk does the exact same thing.

He gets through his warmup routine with the team, skates around the left faceoff circle, fist bumps the last remaining person on the ice — this season that’s typically been Scott Morrow — and then he sprints down the tunnel and screams. It’s his way of locking in before games.

On Friday night, the senior sprinted and screamed, likely for the last time ever in the Mullins Center.

“It’s special, you spend four years of your life here,” Kiefiuk said. “We’ve played a lot of games here, we’ve won a lot of games here, it means a lot to us, it was emotional.”

It’s been a season to forget for the Massachusetts hockey team, but that doesn’t mean head coach Greg Carvel and the Minutemen (11-15-5, 5-13-3 Hockey East) will forget this senior class anytime soon. During their final regular season home game, the UMass bench boss had an emotional hug ready for each of them.

“That was a great way for the seniors to go out,” Carvel said. “I thought as a group they played extremely well … very proud of the outgoing seniors.”

The upperclassmen made sure they didn’t forget their last regular season game in Amherst. Lebster fired a goal past Northeastern’s standout goaltender Devon Levi, and prior to that, Kiefiuk got a slick assist when he skated the puck up the ice and made a move to his backhand before dishing to Elliott McDermott on the back post.

Jerry Harding did his job on senior night, too: be scary. Midway through the second period, Harding was in the neutral zone laying a huge hit on a Husky. When the Northeastern player didn’t take kindly to the hit and held Harding an extra-long time, the assistant captain picked him off the ice and tossed him to the side for a second time.

Harding was so caught up in the action at center ice, he didn’t even see Scott Morrow score a goal on the same play.

“That might be the greatest shift in the history of the program, that was amazing,” Carvel said. “We were all laughing, we enjoyed it. I told him at the beginning of the year, ‘you need to be the scariest player on the ice’ … he brought it to another level tonight, he was scary in a good way.”

Six seniors were honored on Friday night: Kiefiuk, Eric Faith, Harding, Lebster, Matt Koopman and Josh Nodler. Kiefiuk, Faith and Lebster are the only four year players at UMass, and Jerry Harding has been with the program since his sophomore year. All four will leave Amherst as national champions and two-time hockey east champions.

“I think it was just really special to have the whole team put the effort that they did into tonight,” Faith said. “It means a lot to us … it’s like icing on the cake to get that win.”

Faith had big shoes to fill taking over for Bobby Trivigno as team captain in 2022-23, and when he arrived for his freshman year, Carvel didn’t see a leadership role in his future. But Faith has grown in many ways over his time with the Minutemen, and by the time he was a senior, Carvel knew Faith would be wearing the letter “C” on his chest.

“I don’t know how many games he played his freshman year,” Carvel said of Faith. “He turned into a leader and a captain, that speaks to his quality of character.”

Lebster and Harding both wear “A’s” on their jersey’s, and they found their way to that role in different ways. Lebster is a bit softer spoken and a classic case of someone leading by example. He’s been a good resource for the young forwards with all of his experience and skill in the offensive end.

Harding is a case study in being rewarded for doing the right things on and off the ice. Before the season, Carvel called him “the voice” of the team. He talks underclassmen through situations and knows how to be serious, but also understands when to be more lighthearted. And above all, Harding does whatever his team needs him to do. He’s never flashy and he rarely scores, but he carved out a role for himself in other ways.

Kiefiuk isn’t wearing a letter this season, but he might as well be. Carvel is always quick to emphasize how important he is as a leader, and he believes that so strongly that early in the season when Kiefiuk was working through an injury, Carvel dressed him as the extra skater just to keep his presence on the bench.

As for the transfers. Koopman and Nodler aren’t leaving with any major accolades like the seniors ahead of them, but Carvel still appreciates what they brought to the program. Koopman in particular has made a major impact on the program in a short time.

“He seems to be the guy on our team that’s most eager to chip a puck in and go get it,” Carvel said of Koopman. “He’s been such a good addition for our team, he’s been a real leader … I really respect the way he plays the game.”

If this ends up being the last time the seniors skate on the Mullins Center sheet, they went out in a way that properly represents their time at UMass: winners.

“I was kind of tearing up at the end there,” Lebster said. “Last home game at the Mullins Center, and to get the win with these guys was awesome for me.”

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

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