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 looking for defensive consistency against Northeastern

Minutemen expect Samuli Niinisaari back in the lineup
Devin Lippman
Daily Collegian (2024)

The Massachusetts hockey team faces a struggling Northeastern team heading into its single game matchup on Saturday.

The Minutemen (12-6-3, 5-4-2 Hockey East) have been without veteran defenseman Samuli Niinisaari since Dec. 1 but expect that he’ll be available against the Huskies (7-11-2, 2-10 HEA). In 11 games, Niinisaari was an important part of the lineup, being paired with Scott Morrow for most of his games. The defenseman had five points off a goal and four assists.

A welcomed surprise for UMass has been defenseman Linden Alger as he has developed his game throughout the season. After playing just 31 games in his first three years with the Minutemen, Alger has found a steady spot in the lineup as a senior. Putting up just a point on an empty netter goal in the 2022-23 season, Alger currently has four points this season.

Paired with captain Ryan Ufko, Alger continues to be important on both sides of the puck for UMass against Northeastern.

“[Alger] has played extremely well,” head coach Greg Carvel said. “His confidence is growing which is to be expected. Our trust in him has grown exponentially so he’s been a huge surprise and is becoming a really important part of our backend.”

In the Minutemen and Huskies’ last meeting, UMass took the game into overtime, winning 2-1. The Minutemen did not always look like the best team through 60 minutes, allowing opportunities for Northeastern to get looks at the net.

Goaltender Michael Hrabal needs to stay consistent on Saturday as he’s struggled lately for the Minutemen. In UMass’ recent loss to Merrimack, the freshman faced 24 shots and allowed four goals.

Carvel also wants to see defense develop more, especially on their penalty kill. The Minutemen have a 78.2 percent success rate on the penalty kill. In comparison, the Huskies are 82 percent at killing off penalties.

“I think we’re in a pretty good spot offensively, I think defensively we’ve got to tighten up our penalty kill,” Carvel said. “It needs to be better, our goaltending needs to be better. Our play in front of our goaltender needs to be better so he can be better.”

Northeastern forward Jack Williams leads the team with 22 points from 10 goals and 12 assists. In his last four games, he has been hot for the Huskies, having five points in that time. Alex Campbell has also been an important part of the lineup for Northeastern. The forward has 21 points, with three of those points coming from a hat trick against Brown on Dec. 9.

The HEA conference has been tough for most teams in the conference, especially the Huskies. They have gone 2-10 in conference play, but did have a big 5-3 win against top ranked Boston College. They most recently took a 3-1 win over Vermont who have been a tough team to play.

UMass is just over .500 in conference play with a 5-4-2 conference record. The Minutemen have typically split their series with the exception of a sweep against Providence.

“I expect a lot of one win, one loss weekends,” Carvel said on HEA opponent series’. “It’s human nature, you win one night, the other team is wound up the next night, you take the foot off the gas a little bit.”

With a one game week against Northeastern, UMass should come out prepared against the Huskies. Carvel expects UMass to play a full 60 minutes after in past games, the Minutemen have not come out at their best.

“Things are too close, you just bring your best, hope for the best,” Carvel said. “We definitely need three point games but they’re hard to come by and it’ll be hard in Northeastern.”

UMass takes on the Huskies on Saturday, Jan. 20 at 4 p.m. at Matthew Arena in Boston. The game can be streamed on ESPN+.

Kayla Gregoire can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Kaygregoire.

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