As season ends, UMass hockey coach Greg Carvel excited for the future

  • UMass goaltender Ryan Wischow reacts after Northeastern took a 2-0 lead during Game 2 of their best-of-three Hockey East playoff series, Saturday at Matthews Arena in Boston. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

  • UMass defenseman Jake McLaughlin, right, battles with Northeastern’s Nolan Stevens during Game 2 of their best-of-three Hockey East playoff series, Saturday at Matthews Arena in Boston. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

  • UMass forward George Mika, left, presses his stick against Northeastern’s Biagio Lerario during Game 2 of their best-of-three Hockey East playoff series, Saturday at Matthews Arena in Boston. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

  • UMass forward Niko Rufo, center, pushes the puck past Northeastern goaltender Cayden Primeau GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

Saturday, March 10, 2018

BOSTON — The end of UMass hockey season laid out a pretty clear line of where the program’s next milestone resides.

The young Minutemen made considerable strides to go from doormat to respectable in Hockey East. But Saturday’s 7-2 loss to Northeastern, which swept the teams’ best-of-three quarterfinal series, showed UMass some of what it needs to do to go from respectable to competing in the top half of the conference.

“I’m very excited for the future of the program. We took really big steps forward this year,” Carvel said. “I just had the difficult end of the year conversation with team. Part of it was, there’ll be expectations for our team next year. We were predicted to finish last in the league this year. I don’t think that’ll be the case next year. Next year ideally we’re hosting a quarterfinal.

“Playing against a very good team was a learning experience for our group,” Carvel continued. “I’m very excited for what we accomplished. I think the future is very bright. I couldn’t be more excited.”

Freshman Mario Ferraro said the loss was motivating.

“It shows how much we have to elevate for next year. It doesn’t scare us,” Ferraro said. “Next year we have a lot of new freshmen coming in and the freshman from this year have to elevate and get stronger. It’s exciting. This group is something real special. We achieved over a lot of people’s expectations. We’re pumped up for next year.”

The Huskies scored a goal in the first four minutes and another in the final minute of the first period to take a 2-0 lead. The Minutemen twice erased two-goal deficits last week against Vermont and did it again Friday against Northeastern. But they couldn’t do it a fourth time.

“I thought if we scored the next goal we could be in pretty good shape,” Carvel said. “But that wasn’t the case.”

Adam Gaudette scored 3:21 into the second, the first of four goals the home team scored in the middle period, ending any suspense early.

John Leonard prevented a shutout. The freshman jammed the puck through traffic in front, 4:15 into the third period. Brett Boeing added another with 3:10 left.

Sophomore Ryan Wischow gave up six goals on 20 shots in two periods. With the game out of reach and Matt Murray not dressed due to injury, Carvel turned to walk-on Brad Arvanitis to play the third. The freshman made seven saves.

“I know the score was lopsided, but I’m proud of my team,” Carvel said. “My kids played hard. They always play hard.”

The Minutemen will lose two seniors as captain Jake Horton and Niko Rufo graduate. The duo embraced each teammate individually on the ice before leaving it for the final time.

“They’re great leaders,” Ferraro said. “We’re going to miss them next year. We wish them best of luck going forward.”

In the upcoming weeks there’ll be a lot of focus to see whether standout freshmen defensemen Cale Makar, a first-round pick of Colorado, and Ferraro, a second-round pick of San Jose, return or begin their professional careers.

The Minutemen, who went 9-13-2 in Hockey East regular season, finished 17-20-2. Their 12-win improvement was the biggest single-season jump in program history after going 5-29-2 (2-19-1 Hockey East) in 2016-17.

UMass’ top five scorers are all freshmen as well as Murray, the No. 1 goalie. Depending on early departures, the Minutemen could bring back one of the most productive rosters in the conference while still being one of the youngest.

Rufo, who began his career at Hockey East power Providence, predicted big things for his UMass teammates in the future.

“This team is going to be great next year. They’re going to do great things. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them at the Garden next year (for the Hockey East semifinals),” Rufo said. “These young players are so talented. All the signs point to them doing great things in the future. I can’t wait to watch.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage