UMass hockey: Minutemen ready to play UMass Lowell for first time this season

UMass celebrates after a goal by Samuli Niinisaari (7) against AIC in the first period earlier this season at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass celebrates after a goal by Samuli Niinisaari (7) against AIC in the first period earlier this season at the Mullins Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By THOMAS JOHNSTON

Staff Writer

Published: 02-29-2024 5:55 PM

By the end of the weekend, the Massachusetts hockey team will have officially squared off with every Hockey East opponent this season.

UMass, coming off a series against UNH where the Minutemen knocked off the Wildcats at home on Friday and fell in overtime in Durham on Saturday, return to the ice for a home-and-home with UMass Lowell this weekend. It’ll be the first meeting of the season between the two in-state rivals. 

Friday’s contest will be in Lowell and get going at 7:15 p.m. Saturday’s game at the Mullins Center will begin at 6 p.m. 

While UMass — currently sitting at No. 13 in PairWise rankings — was unable to get the win in overtime against UNH on Saturday, Minutemen coach Greg Carvel said it was another game where UMass played well enough to win and a contest the Minutemen can build off of. 

“I thought our game at UNH was outstanding for a road game against a team who’s beat Quinnipiac and BU in that building and had swept Maine the weekend before,” Carvel said. “We went in there played a hell of a hockey game. We hit a couple posts in the first period and probably should have been ahead by a couple. I think,  as a coach and as a team, we’re building confidence. I told the guys before playing UNH that these guys would compete hard and I thought we out-competed them in their building on Saturday.”

After falling to Boston College largely due to giving up two penalties late, UMass (17-10-3, 10-8-2) held a 2-1 lead late on Saturday when the Wildcats knotted the game up. 

There has been talk about the officiating after games, but Carvel insists that the message to the players has been about getting better and growing with each game. 

“We don’t mention the referees once to our players,” Carvel said. “I talk to [the media] about them but we met yesterday and nothing was said about the referees. At this time of year, against Maine, BC, UNH, all top 20 teams who are good, it was all about how can we be better and what can we learn from this weekend. I think we did a good job coming out of Maine, coming out of BC. We learned some things about ourselves from UNH that can keep pushing us.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Two men dump milk, orange juice over themselves at Amherst convenience store
Three Amherst Regional Middle School counselors absolved of Title IX offenses
Springfield man charged with murder in Holyoke stabbing
Lawmakers, Jewish groups accuse Massachusetts Teachers Association of bias
‘Our hearts were shattered’: Moved by their work in Mexico soup kitchen, Northampton couple takes action
Hadley’s Brad Mish, Northampton’s Elianna Shwayder top Hampshire County finishers at 128th Boston Marathon

UMass Lowell (8-19-4, 4-13-3) enters Friday in last place in the Hockey East standings. 

It’s been a lack of scoring that has doomed the Riverhawks, as their 35 goals in league play put them last in the conference. UMass Lowell’s 68 goals in 31 total games this season also ranks last in Hockey East. Lowell’s 2.2 goals per game ranks 60th out of 64 Div. 1 teams. 

What has led to the Riverhawks’ offensive struggles? They have struggled on the power play, converting just 13 percent of the time on man-up situations. 

The lack of offense could prove problematic against a Minutemen squad that has allowed more than three goals in just three games since the turn of the calendar, two of those coming against Boston College. 

Samuli Niinisaari — who transferred to UMass from Brown this year — scored a pair of goals in the win over UNH on Friday. 

Those goals were the graduate defenseman’s first since the opening game of the season against AIC. Getting offensive production from another defenseman would be a big boost for the Minutemen heading into the postseason. 

“When we recruited him to come for his grad year he wanted to develop his offensive game,” Carvel said. “I told him our defenseman usually score points here and you’ll probably play with [Scott] Morrow or [Ryan] Ufko. Two pretty good options to build offense. He scored the first game and in the first scrimmage. We joked he’d set some records here. He’s had chances throughout the year. We rely on him to be a really good defensive player but he makes really good puck decisions. He has more than enough ability to score goals. It’s surprising he hasn't chipped in more than he has.”