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

Skillings: It’s time for UMass hockey to bounce back

Times have changed for the Minutemen
Dylan Nguyen
Daily Collegian (2023)

The Massachusetts hockey team is coming off of a 13-17-5 season in 2022-23, a record that is below the standard for a UMass hockey program that has transformed within the past seven years.

Head coach Greg Carvel came to UMass in 2016-17, inheriting a team that went 8-24-4 just a year prior. His first season behind the bench for the Minutemen wasn’t any better, leading the team to a dismal 5-29-2 record.

That’s when things shifted.

Carvel focused on bringing in players that he saw value in for what he wanted to build. He kept Cale Makar on board even though he had committed to UMass under the previous head coach. He found players that would fit his vision for what he wanted UMass hockey to be; players who didn’t necessarily need to have the talent that schools like Boston University and Boston College can consistently recruit but that would put in the work to win games with grit and physicality.

Once a program at a crossroads, Carvel created a new culture for the Minutemen. He turned a historically unsuccessful program into contenders by promoting his “NewMass” mantra.

After players like Bobby Trivigno, Anthony Del Gaizo and Colin Felix graduated in 2022 however, UMass seemed to lose a part of that culture that Carvel worked so hard to build up in his early seasons as head coach.

Now coming off of one of their worst seasons in this era of UMass hockey, the Minutemen find themselves at a similar crossroads.

As Carvel has alluded to, UMass wasn’t a tough team to play against last year. The Minutemen struggled both with their grit on the ice and their makeup off of it.

This season, he brought in 13 new faces, including four graduate transfers with the hope that they will improve the team’s on ice physicality and off ice maturity.

Each of the graduate transfers bring size and grit to the lineup that was sparse on last years team. In the absence of Jerry Harding, very few of the returners bring the physicality that is needed to compete in Hockey East. This was certainly a point of emphasis for Carvel when he was deciding what path to take in the transfer portal.

Liam Gorman and Lucas Vanroboys will be vital in making UMass a tough team for opponents to play against, with both playing an assertive style of hockey that leads to production through being in the gritty areas of the ice. They, along with fellow transfer forward Christian Sanda, will need to consistently be clogging the neutral zone and making life difficult for opposing offenses.

Conversely, the freshmen bring a boatload of skill to the lineup that UMass desperately needs. A huge issue with last season’s team was the lack of depth on offense, leading to the Minutemen having the third lowest number of goals scored in HEA play.

Aydar Suniev, Dans Locmelis, Jack Musa and Cameron O’Neill are arguably the four most intriguing freshman skaters that UMass brought in its freshman class.

Even though the freshman class should be an upgrade over the seniors and transfers who left, the returners have a lot to prove to this program.

Taylor Makar, Lucas Mercuri and Ryan Lautenbach have great chemistry off the ice, but they were inconsistent last season. On paper, their playing styles mesh well together and there were plenty of flashes of it on the ice last year, but they need to be consistent impact players this season as opposed to having on and off nights.

Similarly, the line of Kenny Connors, Michael Cameron and Cole O’Hara need to make the sophomore jump after each showed real potential in their freshmen seasons. This is a line that could easily be UMass’ top line if they make the leap as the team is expecting them to.

When it comes down to it, the team’s success this season lies on whether or not it can be consistent. The Minutemen were incredibly up and down last year, partially due to a lack of depth that hurt them at points. This new roster makeup leaves little room for excuses as far as depth goes, assuming there aren’t tons of injuries.

Carvel did it once and he can do it again. The culture and vibes around the team are high to start the season and that is due to a lot of reflection from the coaching staff and the returning players who seem to be committed to bringing back the brand of UMass hockey that fans have gotten used to.

With a culture shift and an emphasis on rounding out the lineup, this UMass team has the makeup to be back at the top of Hockey East this season. The question of whether or not it can accomplish that will be answered soon enough when the Minutemen kick off play Saturday Oct. 7, against AIC.

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

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