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

Ciano: Top five players to look for in the 2023-24 season

Returners and new roster additions amp up the power for the Minutemen
Dylan Nguyen
Daily Collegian (2023)

On Oct. 7, the Massachusetts hockey team will take on American International College to kick off the 2023-24 season. UMass added 13 new players between freshmen and transfers, piling on top of the 15 returning players. Narrowing this 28-player roster, though, these are the top five players to keep an eye out this season.

 Ryan Ufko

The junior defenseman from Long Island, New York was recently named co-captain for the upcoming season alongside defenseman Aaron Bohlinger. Ufko was selected in the National Hockey League’s 2021 Entry Draft in the fourth round by the Nashville Predators.

Ufko has been nothing but a solid, well-rounded, and focused player on the ice in his first two years at UMass. In the 2022-23 season, the defenseman was named a Hockey East Second Team All-Star and played on Team USA for the World Junior Championships. He closed out the season with 24 points from eight goals and 16 assists, with four of his goals coming on the power-play. On the defensive side, Ufko put up 48 blocks.

After a season that left the Minutemen gasping for air, Ufko remained collected and stable on the ice. Taking up this role of captaincy, the power and strength coming from the junior defenseman can be expected to skyrocket. Out of the pool of returners, Ufko is by far the most organized and composed player, sure to take control over the game in times of need.

 Michael Cameron

The returning forward had a slow start in his freshman year as a Minuteman. Cameron found success later in the season however, playing on a line with fellow freshmen Kenny Connors and Cole O’Hara. Towards the back half of the 2022-23 season, Cameron alongside his fellow freshmen began to break out and find a good rhythm on the ice together.

Though he did not show up on the scoreboard in quantity, only tallying 12 points in 31 games, Cameron did so in quality. Two of his dozen points were power play goals, and another was a game-tying effort.

Coming off of a strong second half to his freshman season, Cameron will be expected to continue his quality play on the ice. Returning with both Connors and O’Hara, the strength of the now-sophomore line may be emphasized by head coach Greg Carvel. Fans can expect the young forward to score in big-time goals and clock in time on the ice for more scoring opportunities.

 Aydar Suniev

Suniev is an incoming freshman forward who was selected by the Calgary Flames in the third round of the 2023 Entry Draft. After spending two seasons with the British Columbia Hockey League’s Penticton Vees, putting up 123 points in 83 games and averaging 1.64 points per game, the forward is likely to bring a creative flair to the UMass regime.

In the BCHL, Suniev’s vision on the ice was irreplaceable and having a shifty presence on the ice is something the Minutemen have been missing the past two years. While having a solid, contained structure to the game is a priority, having a player who can catch the opponent off guard with his skills will give UMass an edge in a competitive Hockey East conference.

However, it is important to note that the transition into college hockey – specifically Hockey East – may give Suniev a wake-up call. Coming from the BCHL, Hockey East will be a shock to the freshman.

 Owen Murray

Similar to Cameron, Owen Murray had a slow start to his freshman season. Alongside powerhouse defensemen like Ufko and Morrow, the freshman took some time to find his role on the ice. In fact, Murray’s first breakout game was in the series against Maine, the final two games of the 2022-23 regular season. On March 3, the freshman sunk in his first collegiate goal and also earned an assist. This was the first time Murray popped out as a potential star player. Carvel even credited the victories against Maine in-part to the defenseman.

Heading into this season, the adrenaline that was short-lived last season is expected to fire up again. With a number of impressive players returning for their second season, Murray has the ability to live up to and potentially surpass Carvel’s expectations. Though less of a two-way player, his refined defensive skills will be notable in his own end.

 Samuli Niinisaari

One of the more prominent transfers UMass added to the roster this season was the graduate defenseman from Hamina, Finland. Niinisaari transferred from Brown University where he completed his undergraduate biology degree. As a senior, he was named alternate captain and finished his fourth year with 67 blocks and 34 shots on goal.

While UMass’ defense is packed with strong returners such as Ufko, Bohlinger, Morrow and Murray, Niinisaari brings a different presence to the ice: maturity. Though crowd-thrilling goals and exciting defensive plays are important to look out for, UMass needs stability which is something the graduate transfer is bringing to the team. Having a smart eye on and off the ice makes Niinisaari a reliable player. His strength as a defenseman will be highlighted through his composure, stability, and responsibility on the ice.

The Minutemen will take on AIC in their season opener. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center where fans can keep an early eye on these standout players.

Sydney Ciano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @SydneyCiano.

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