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 set to battle with top ranked Boston College

Minutemen preparing for top offense in NCAA
Matt Skillings

The No. 11 Massachusetts hockey team’s biggest test of the season has finally arrived, as the Minutemen will take on No. 1 Boston College this weekend in a home-and-home series.

UMass (16-7-3, 9-5-2 Hockey East) enters the series with momentum on its side after it swept UConn this past weekend. BC (21-5-1, 11-2-0 HEA) has had an emotional past few weeks, sweeping No. 3 Boston University in a weekend home-and-home before falling to the Terriers in the Beanpot semifinal. The Eagles have won their last two games convincingly, defeating UNH 6-1 and routing Harvard 5-0 in the Beanpot consolation game.

It’s no secret as to how BC flipped the script so quickly after a lackluster 2022-23 season. The infusion of freshmen Will Smith, Gabe Perrault and Amherst native Ryan Leonard immediately turned the Eagles into one of the top teams in the country on paper at the start of the season, and they have backed up all of the projections with stellar play that has led them to a 21-5-1 record.

Gabe Perrault has proven that he was the steal of the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, where he was picked 23rd overall by the New York Rangers. Perrault leads the NCAA in scoring with 13 goals and 32 assists for 45 points and has a legitimate shot at taking over the program record for most assists in a single season by a freshman, which is currently held by Boston Bruins legend Ken Hodge who set the record at 44 in 1985. The 18-year-old is one of the best playmakers in the country and he will be difficult for the Minutemen to contend with in their defensive zone.

Will Smith and Ryan Leonard are the two other freshman who will make life difficult for UMass this weekend. Smith is one of the most complete offensive players in the NCAA, possessing elite puck skills that make him dangerous everywhere on the ice. He has 16 goals and 25 assists and is just four points behind Perrault for the team lead.

Leonard is a player that you love to have on your team and hate to have to play against. He is a gifted offensive player but isn’t afraid to muck it up in front of the net or win battles in the corners. His brother, John, was a standout at UMass during his three seasons with the program.

Sophomores Cutter Gauthier, Andre Gasseu and Oskar Jellvik are all elite offensive players who have thrived in their second season with the program and have been integral to ensuring that the freshmen aren’t alone in carrying the scoring department. The three have 43 goals combined.

This weekend will be a big test for UMass on the defensive end, where it has been lockdown as of late, allowing five goals in its last five games.

“I think we’ve been very disciplined; we’ve not taken very many penalties, we made adjustments to our penalty kill,” head coach Greg Carvel said. “That’s a big part of any defensive scheme is staying out of the box and not giving up power play goals. We’re growing as a team with 13 new players.”

Goaltender Michael Hrabal has been a big part of the defensive showcase the Minutemen have put on the past month. The freshman stopped all but one shot in 120 minutes of play against UConn and has proven consistent in the calendar year after an up and down first semester.

“I think you look at the World Junior tournament very similar to what his season has been,” Carvel said. “He beats Canada and then he gets pulled in the first period of the next game if I remember correctly.”

“That’s kind of what he was the first semester for us, up and down, which was completely expected. He’s 18 years old at a very good level of hockey. But, what we also expected was that eventually he was going to figure things out and find his comfort zone, and it sure looks like that’s where he’s at.”

UMass has also been effective at limiting high danger scoring chances and keeping their opponents’ shots to the outside of the offensive zone where they won’t prove as difficult for Hrabal to stop.

“I think we’ve been trying to tighten up in front of our net a little bit,” sophomore Kenny Connors said. “It’s been one of our focuses the last couple of weeks.”

The Minutemen will also rely on their ability to wear teams down and dominate the third period against the Eagles.

“I think the way we practice, like our conditioning, we’re one of the best conditioned teams in the country,” Hobey Baker candidate Scott Morrow said. “We play on a big rink at home, we’re used to having to skate more of a distance. Other teams play on a smaller rink, so they don’t skate as much, so it’s kind of an advantage every day at practice having a bigger rink because it just forces you to get used to working harder.”

UMass will have a chance to set the tone on its own home ice, as the series will start at the Mullins Center on Friday in front of a sold out crowd before to Chestnut Hill on Sunday.

“I think that’s actually a huge advantage especially against BC,” freshman Nick VanTassell said. “I think in our rink, our fans, our identity, playing big and fast and hard, I think it’s going to surprise them a little bit. So hopefully get the win on Friday and then going into their rink they have a lot of pressure on them.”

Preparation-wise, it’s business as usual for the Minutemen, who pride themselves on approaching every opponent with the same level of intensity and scouting.

“I’m confident that if we play our game we can play with anyone,” Connors said.

Puck drops at the Mullins Center on Friday, Feb. 16 at 7 p.m.

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

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