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 to take on No. 1 Boston College in Hockey East Semifinals

The Minutemen look to keep playoff run alive
Kira Johnson
Daily Collegian (2024)

The Massachusetts hockey team will take on the No. 1 Boston College Eagles in the Hockey East Semifinals at TD Garden on Friday. With a win against BC (29-5-1, 20-3-1 HEA), UMass (20-12-3, 12-10-2 HEA) would guarantee itself a spot in the NCAA tournament and go on to compete in the HEA Finals.

The Eagles will be a test for the Minutemen, as the latter could not find a win in the two-game series against the Eagles in the regular season.

“We got swept by [BC] so it left a sour taste in our mouth,” captain Ryan Ufko said. “To get them back, especially in playoffs right now, I think that’s really motivating, kind of fires us up a bit more than anybody else.”

For both games, the Eagles capitalized on fast starts, scoring in the first period to quickly get ahead of the Minutemen. Amherst native Ryan Leonard was dangerous for BC when he stepped on the ice, proving to be a challenge for the defense and goaltender Michael Hrabal.

“We should probably guard Ryan Leonard pretty closely since he scored five goals on us in two games,” head coach Greg Carvel said.

Someone the Minutemen will keep their eye on is freshman Gabe Perreault, one of the Eagles’ points leaders. The freshman has missed BC’s last five games, including its Quarterfinals win against UConn. If Perreault is back in the lineup, the Eagles will be back to full health and strength.

With or without Perreault, UMass will still have to stop Leonard and Will Smith, alongside Cutter Gauthier. Smith and Gauthier have taken the lead in points in the absence of Perreault, with 58 points from Smith 52 from Gauthier. The Eagles’ top line consists of high-level talent, all top-10 draft picks that are hard to find. All four lines are offensively talented, though, as each line has been accounted for in scoring in BC’s wins.

The Minutemen will need to have a strong first period start, a key to their win against Providence in the Quarterfinals. If UMass can score early, players will have confidence early.

“If we play hard, play a good structure in 5-on-5, I don’t think we want to get into a special teams battle with them but if we keep the game 5-on-5, I like our chances,” Carvel said.

The Minutemen have struggled against BC, Boston University and Maine, the top three teams in Hockey East. Despite this, UMass has shown it can hang with some of the top teams, sweeping No. 4 Providence — but the matchup against BC will be an even bigger test. The Minutemen were hurt by officiating in the two games, which Carvel was vocal about.

Taylor Makar, Ryan Lautenbach and Lucas Mercuri will be a crucial line with the experience they bring. Two of the three players were on the ice for UMass’ HEA Championship win in 2022. The line reunited for the first time since the start of the season against Providence. They looked to gel back together quickly, and if Carvel keeps them together on Friday, they have the chance to be dangerous on both sides of the puck.

Hrabal will also be a big piece on Friday; he’ll likely have to play his best game of the season. While UMass’ defense will try keep BC off the goaltender, when the Eagles get to him, they take advantage of their chances better than anyone.

Despite heading into a game with huge implications in a large venue like TD Garden, the Minutemen are trying to take it as any other game.

“It’s no different than any games we’ve had before so we know what we’re doing,” captain Aaron Bohlinger said. “It’s just going to be a matter of making sure we’re doing everything right leading up to it, but nothing really changes. It’s the same message it’s been all year.”

UMass will look to guarantee itself a spot in the Hockey East Finals in the Friday, March 22 matchup against BC. Puck drop is set for 4 p.m. in Boston.

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

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