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: Michael Hrabal is running away with the starting goaltender position

Freshman netminder makes 32 saves in 2-1 win over Providence
Kalina Kornacki
Daily Collegian (2023)

After a 2-1 overtime win on Saturday afternoon to complete a weekend sweep of Providence, the Massachusetts hockey team is off to an 8-3-1 start to its season, due in large part to stellar play in net from freshman Michael Hrabal.

The Czechia native led UMass to victory on Saturday, allowing just one goal on 33 shots against. Hrabal has taken advantage of his opportunity to compete for the starting goaltender role as a freshman and seems to have run away with the position just 12 games into the season.

Now holding a 6-2-1 record in his nine starts this season, it is apparent that it’s Hrabal’s position to lose.

It isn’t often that true freshmen make an impact in college hockey, especially with the transfer portal expanding in recent years. Hrabal, however, is a true freshman at 18-years-old and is dominating in net for the Minutemen who are now likely to be ranked in the top 10 after sweeping No. 5 Providence (8-3-2, 4-2-2 Hockey East).

The competition level hasn’t proven to be too high for Hrabal, who not only holds a .916 save percentage and a 2.45 goals against average, but has been the difference in several UMass wins, including Saturday’s game against Providence.

Head coach Greg Carvel said after the game that he thought that his team stole a win out from under Providence, before emphasizing that Hrabal was the main reason for the win in a game in which they were largely out played. His 11 saves in the third period, along with stone-walling the Friars on a five-minute power play proved to be the difference in the game, giving the Minutemen a chance to tie and win the game late.

After a season of disarray in net in 2022-23, UMass needed stability in its goaltender position this year. Even if that meant that Hrabal and Cole Brady split time, there needed to be a change after all three netminders last season struggled to win the position.

But unlike last season, Cole Brady hasn’t been called upon to start games on a whim. After Hrabal and Brady rotated the first couple of weeks, Hrabal proved that he was going to give the Minutemen the best chance to win on a game-by-game basis, meaning that the senior was relegated to backup.

Hrabal’s start isn’t indicative of Brady being a bad goaltender, but rather that the Minutemen need a stable starter, like they had in Matt Murray during their championship runs in recent years. Brady has an important role in pushing Hrabal to stay at the top of his game week in and week out knowing that there is someone waiting to replace him if he struggles.

“I think [Brady and Hrabal] provide a lot of competition for each other throughout the week and through the weekend,” Ryan Ufko said after Saturday’s win. “[Hrabal] being a freshman, some might say it’s a lot of pressure, but he loves it, he lives up to it. Just the way he plays, he’s competitive on every puck so I think that’s why he’s as good as he is.”

Now having proven himself to be an elite starter in what was a gauntlet of tough opponents to start the season, Hrabal will have ample opportunity to succeed in UMass’ final four games before winter break against teams like Alaska Anchorage and Harvard who don’t have the offensive firepower of teams like Michigan and Boston University.

Hrabal and the Minutemen will be back in action on Friday, Nov. 24 at Harvard, with puck drop at 4:30 p.m.

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

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