Freshman defenseman Colin Felix stays steady for UMass

  • Finland’s Filip Lindberg takes a drink during the first period of a world junior hockey championship game against Kazakhstan on Dec. 27 in Victoria, British Columbia. Lindberg, a UMass freshman, is spending time at home before returning to the Minutemen. AP FILE

  • COLIN FELIX

Staff Writer
Published: 1/10/2019 8:40:50 PM

AMHERST — There were some moments in early September when Greg Carvel wasn’t exactly sure if Colin Felix would be ready to contribute this season.

The freshman defenseman from Ocean City, New Jersey, didn’t necessarily impress right off the bat, but as the first week of practice wore on, Felix began to piece together his game. And just as he has done on every stop along his hockey journey, he quickly earned the trust of the UMass coaching staff and planted himself in the lineup.

“It was pretty early on (I felt comfortable), and that was surprising because the first couple of days of practice, I was quite leery of if he was going to be able to play this year at this level,” Carvel said. “... He’s a guy who the whole is bigger than the sum of his parts. He’s not a great skater, he’s not a great puck-handler, there’s nothing about his game that’s really remarkable, but he adds it all up. He competes, he’s smart, he has a good stick, he knows what to do with the puck, he has a big body and there’s not a lot of guys like him anymore.”

One of the bigger hurdles Felix had to overcome was the Mullins Center rink. He said he worked on his skating and speed to adjust to the larger 200-by-95-foot sheet and had extra skills sessions after practice to hone his skills. He also spent time with strength coach Clayton Kirven to get stronger before the season.

He said after the first few days of practice, he knew he’d have to leave his comfort zone to earn playing time.

“That first week was definitely an eye-opening experience,” Felix said. “I was like ‘Woah, I’m definitely going to have to work and put myself in some uncomfortable positions to make sure I’m ready to go for when we start playing.’ But a lot of the guys in the locker room helped me out with that and just watching some of the other defensemen and how they played, I adjusted fairly quickly.”

The obvious strength of Felix’s game is in the defensive zone where he grinds away at opponents. He ranks second on the team with 14 blocked shots and has learned how to use his body and weight to be effective at that end of the ice.

And on the rare occasions he is able to join the rush, he has found ways to be productive with four assists. His slap pass Friday against UMass-Lowell turned into the Minutemen’s only goal after Niko Hildenbrand deflected it into the net. Felix also provided the shot late in the third period at Providence in November that Anthony Del Gaizo tipped home to win the game.

“I feel like I’m a gritty defenseman,” Felix said. “I’m strong in the defensive zone, but I also have that jump in my step, so I can get up in the rush and play offense when the time comes as well.”

Felix is one of four defensemen to appear in all 18 games for the second-ranked Minutemen. He has mostly been paired with either senior Ivan Chukarov or junior Jake McLaughlin on the third defensive pairing as part of the three-player rotation at the bottom of the lineup.

McLaughlin said he appreciates how easy Felix makes the game and how consistent he has become on the back end.

“Playing with him, we like to keep it simple,” McLaughlin said. “He’s a simple defenseman, he likes to move the puck, get the puck on net. He’s a steady guy, he’s reliable and it makes my job easier knowing what he’s going to do and how we can build some chemistry moving forward.”

LINDBERG HOME — Freshman goalie Filip Lindberg has not returned to Amherst yet after representing his native Finland in the 2019 IIHF World Juniors.

Carvel said he learned last year with defenseman Cale Makar how exhausting the tournament can be on players and gave Lindberg the option to visit his parents for the first time since he arrived at school in September. Although that likely means Lindberg passed up his first chance to play at the Mullins Center, Carvel said it was the best decision when thinking about the long-term goals of the season.

“The kids who play in that tournament, they need time off,” Carvel said. “It’s too much to ask them to come straight back because they run out of gas. We saw it last year with Cale, we gave him three or four days off to go home to Calgary and came back, and he was still out of gas.”

CONFIDENCE BOOSTER — The last time Vermont visited the Mullins Center, it was the most electric atmospheres of Carvel’s first two years as coach.

UMass hosted the Catamounts for the first round of the Hockey East Tournament, and held serve with a tight series win in front of a strong fan support. Although the Minutemen were eliminated in the next round by Northeastern, those three games against Vermont set the tone for this season.

Vermont (8-9-1, 1-6-1 Hockey East) returns again for a pair of 7 p.m. contests on Friday and Saturday in Amherst. In hindsight, Carvel said last year’s series wasn’t the turning point for this year’s success, but it built the confidence that has been exuded this season by the Minutemen (15-3-0, 7-1-0).

“It was a big step forward for us,” Carvel said. “Things were going in the right direction and looking back, if we had not won that series, it probably would have left a bad taste in our mouth. ... It was a great series in that we had to play three games, we had to win under some pressure, and it provided great experience for our young kids.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.




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