Kolby Vegara positions himself in new role for UMass hockey

Staff Writer
Published: 3/4/2020 6:51:12 PM

AMHERST — If someone had asked Greg Carvel a month ago about playing Kolby Vegara as a third-line forward, the UMass hockey coach would probably be mentioning it as a harbinger of bad omens.

Yet, on Saturday night against Connecticut, Carvel had little choice but to see what Vegara – a defenseman – could do alongside Anthony Del Gaizo and Jake Gaudet. A few body checks and some steady play later, Carvel has found another forward he can trust as the Minutemen battle for seeding in Hockey East.

“Give Kolby a lot of credit, he made the most of it, most kids don’t,” Carvel said. “He did, thank God, because we really needed that. I popped him up on the third line and if you had ever told me I was going to be playing Kolby Vegara on the third line while playing for second place, we’re in trouble. But I put him there because he deserved it, he went out and had a great shift and he kept doing the same thing.”

Just 24 hours earlier, Vegara wasn’t expected to even be playing against the Huskies for UMass. George Mika’s illness made the sophomore the last healthy body available, so he dressed for the Minutemen in the 3-2 loss at UConn. By the end of that game, Vegara was skating as a forward because Jeremy Davidson left the game with an injury.

On Saturday, Vegara was listed as a fourth-line forward, but quickly moved up when Carvel didn’t have enough trust in his freshmen to stick to the system. Vegara didn’t add much statistically, but his physicality and puck management skills fit what Carvel was searching for from his bottom-six forwards. Once the shifts became more regular, Vegara said he knew he could make a positive impact on the game.

“The more you play, the better you feel on the ice,” Vegara said. “Once I got my legs underneath me and got a little more used to playing, I got a better sense for the game and felt like I could really contribute with my physical play and bring some momentum for my team.”

Friday’s appearance was just the third of the season for Vegara, who has struggled to find playing time behind a talented group of defensemen ahead of him. The sophomore dressed as the seventh defenseman for the season-opening win over RPI on Oct. 11 and then again for the first game at Denver on Jan. 3. He had one shot both nights against UConn, the third and fourth ones of his UMass career.

Behind the scenes, Vegara is a well-liked and well-respected teammate who continues to work hard despite his situation. He said he believes that there is more than one way to help a team win, and that he was just trying to do his part to have an impact in whatever manner possible.

“You just have to realize that everything happens for a reason,” Vegara said. “Everyone in that locker room is putting good stuff on that pile, and everyone wants this team to succeed whether it’s being a positive influence in the locker room or putting up hat tricks in a game. No matter what, you’ve got to realize there’s always good to be done, so you’ve always got to have a positive outlook and put good stuff on the pile.”

Carvel said Vegara will play forward for the foreseeable future, although his role might be more limited Thursday when the ninth-ranked Minutemen (20-11-2, 13-8-2 Hockey East) host Vermont (5-22-6, 2-17-4) in the regular-season finale.

Mitchell Chaffee, the team’s second-leading scorer, is expected to return for UMass after missing the last four games with an upper-body injury. His comeback is much needed with the news that Mika is done for the year with the knee injury he suffered Saturday. Meanwhile, Carvel said Davidson is day-to-day as he recovers from his injury.

Yet whenever Vegara’s name is called to take a shift against the Catamounts, he said he’ll be ready for the action. He said he gained a lot from his performance Saturday as he continues striving to add something positive to the Minutemen.

“It’s a huge confidence builder and you feel good when you knock somebody over and get the puck back and make a play toward the net,” Vegara said. “You hear the bench get alive and feel the momentum come, it’s something that feels good all around and it puts good stuff on the pile.”

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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