In case you missed it: UMass ice hockey team heats up this season

  • UMass head coach Greg Carvel talks to his team during their win against Yale, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018 at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jake Gaudet, second from right, of UMass, celebrates his goal against Yale in the first period with Oliver Chau, from left, Ivan Chukarov and Mitchell Chaffee, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018 at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 12/17/2018 8:42:26 AM

Has the sleeping giant finally awaken? A No. 1 ranking and 8,412 fans at the Mullins Center would suggest so.

The UMass ice hockey team entered the winter break as one of the hottest teams, and one of the biggest surprises, this season.

With second-year head coach Greg Carvel and talented underclassmen leading the way, the Minutemen rode a perfect November up the national rankings ladder. Entering the first full week of December the program reached No. 1 in the United States College Hockey Online (USCHO) poll.

It was the first time in program history for such an honor, and it came nearly two years to the day when the Minutemen won their fourth of five games in a 5-29-2 season.

For decades, the program was a bottom-feeder in Hockey East. Winning seasons were rare, and NCAA Tournament appearances even rarer. Since becoming a Division I program, the Minutemen have made just one NCAA appearance.

The potential has always been there, and fans have been patiently waiting. The program has always landed quality recruits; six UMass alums were playing in the NHL when the season started. Two of them — Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and Buffalo Sabres winger ConorSheary — each won the Stanley Cup twice. UMass has the facilities, and the team competes in Hockey East, one of the top leagues in the country.

The turnaround started with the hiring of Carvel. Associate Head Coach Ben Barr followed, and coaching staff was able to retain the commitments made by the current sophomore class, including defenseman CaleMakar, the fourth-overall draft pick in the 2017 NHL Enter Draft.

Growth was steady last season, but the Minutemen proved they were on their way following a Hockey East Tournament series win over Vermont.

The 2018-19 season started fast and hasn’t slowed down. In the third game of the season, UMass beat then-No. 1 Ohio State, 6-3 in Columbus. The Buckeyes beat the Minutemen the next night, but UMass ripped off a program-record nine straight wins.

The Minutemen went from unranked to No. 1. They went from being predicted to finish sixth in Hockey East to holding the top spot all season.

With the top ranking come challenges, and UMass was tested in its first game as the top team, a 4-0 loss to then-No. 8 Quinnipiac, in Hamden, Connecticut.

When the Minutemen returned home the next night, a sold-out Mullins Center was waiting. Quinnipiac took a lead in the second period, but the Minutemen responded in the third with three goals for the win.

“It was something special,” said senior Ivan Chukarov, who is one of a few remaining players from that five-win season. “I kind of got goosebumps walking out there and seeing all those people with the white towels. It was a sight to see, something we haven’t been used to in a while, so it was good to see.”

UMass closed the first half of the season with a 5-2 win over No. 18 Yale. The loss to Quinnipiac dropped the Minutemen to No. 2 in the rankings, but it doesn’t matter. UMass has arrived. The sleeping giant is awake, and the second half of the season is around the corner.

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