UMass hockey hoping to avoid reduced schedule

  • UMass junior forward Bobby Trivigno was named the Hockey East Player of the Month for November/December. The Minutemen face New Hampshire at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Mullins Center. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass freshman forward Josh Lopina was named the Hockey East Rookie of the Month for November/December. The Minutemen face New Hampshire at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Mullins Center. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/5/2021 3:23:45 PM

The UMass hockey team is leading Hockey East with 25 points. Some of that is a function of playing 12 games when none of the other members have played more than nine.

Boston University hasn’t hit the ice yet.

Because of that gap, the No. 8 Minutemen may play fewer games per week as the season winds down. They were supposed to have three this week: a 3:30 p.m. Wednesday contest against New Hampshire at the Mullins Center, then a home and home series with UConn on Thursday and Saturday.

The UConn series was scrapped Tuesday, Hockey East announced, but all of the conference’s 12 teams are scheduled to play this week.

“I don’t think it’s fair to do that. Other schools decided not to play. It wasn’t that they got the virus, they decided not to play. That’s not on UMass. If BU decides they’re not going to play for two months that doesn’t mean UMass should play less games,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “I also don’t think it’s fair to us to shut us down because other teams need to catch up.”

The Minutemen played three games last week: a midweek win at New Hampshire then a home and home sweep of Northeastern.

“That was hard. I don’t want to do that. We shouldn’t be every weekend the team that doesn’t play because we have more games than anybody else,” Carvel said. “It’s been a sacrifice by our university, our players and our staff to stay healthy. We want to play every weekend. I think anybody’s who’s in charge of scheduling would agree with how I look at it.”

Being on the ice so much has allowed UMass to discern its identity and solidify its rotation. The Minutemen started the season 2-4-1, then the coaching staff changed how they were managing the players and their rest.

“You go into this pandemic season with no experience and you hope you can figure things out. Against Merrimack, our team hit a wall. We realized that and we adjusted how we were doing things,” Carvel said. “You have to understand your team and you have to keep them energized. We took a step forward when we realized we needed to change how we were managing our payers. And if we need to change, again we’ll do that.”

The Minutemen are riding a six-game winning streak and have scored at least four goals in every game. It’s the first time they’ve hit that mark in six consecutive games since 1995-96.

“Part of it is when you’re playing well enough to win, you get empty net goals. That helps,” Carvel said. “Our power play has been better than I expected it to be. Our fourth line is starting to contribute to the offense.”

UMass is averaging 3.6 goals per game, which ranks 12th in the nation. The power play, a noted sore spot last year, has climbed to 15th in the country at 25.5 percent.

“We practice with intent a lot. It’s easy in practice if guys are tired to not get to the front of the net. I think that’s been a huge key for us lately,” UMass senior captain Jake Gaudet said. “A lot of the goals, especially the ones from the blue line, have had a huge net presence.”

The only thing UMass hasn’t done well over the winning streak is to stay out of the penalty box. The Minutemen have the most penalties in the country (45) but have only given up three power play goals. They rank fifth in the country on the penalty kill (93.3 percent).

“Ideally we’ll stay out of the penalty box. That’s the one thing with this group with the streak that we’re on I would like to see better is our discipline. It’s a fine line when you ask your kids to play hard. I think some of the penalties we take is because they’re competing and they’re knocking kids down. I can’t blame them for that.”

New Hampshire (2-2-1) is led by Jackson Pierson’s five points. No Wildcat has more than two goals. They were without two of their top forwards last week coming out of a shutdown.

“We expect them to have more of a full team,” Carvel said. “As that game wore on you could tell they’d been paused for a little while.”

MURRAY AIMING FOR HISTORY – UMass senior goalie Matt Murray tied the Minutemen’s career wins record Saturday against Northeastern with his 50th. He can set the mark Wednesday against New Hampshire.

NEAR AWARDS SWEEP – UMass junior forward Bobby Trivigno was named the Hockey East Player of the Month for November/December, and Josh Lopina was named the conference’s Rookie of the Month on Monday. It’s the first monthly honor for both of them.

Trivigno leads Hockey East with 14 points. He has 10 assists and finished the month with three consecutive multi-point games. Trivigno is on a five-game point streak.

Lopina won 116 faceoffs, which leads the country. He added four goals and three assists.

Murray was the runner up for the Goalie of the Month.

Lopina was also named the conference’s latest Rookie of the Week on Tuesday. He had five points in the three wins.

INJURY UPDATES – Junior goalie Filip Lindberg will be dressed and available after being out since UMass faced Vermont on Dec. 19 and 20.

Sophomore forward Reed Lebster will also be available for the first time since Nov. 27 against Boston College when he collided with the Eagles net.

That brings the Minutemen near full strength, as Carvel said Cal Kiefiuk will miss Wednesday’s game with an injury.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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