UMass hockey notebook: Forward Cal Kiefiuk will return to lineup against Merrimack

  • UMass celebrates Anthony Del Gaizo's third-period goal Saturday at the Mullins Center that pushed the Minutemen past UMass Lowell. Del Gaizo was named the Hockey East Player of the Week on Monday. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/7/2021 7:22:54 PM
Modified: 12/7/2021 7:22:26 PM

Finals are underway at UMass in more places than the classroom.

The school’s men’s hockey team has one game remaining – a 7 p.m. date at Merrimack on Wednesday – before the Minutemen break for more than three weeks. Their next game after Wednesday is Dec. 31 at Union College, the first in a two-game set in Schenectady, N.Y. That gap includes 10 off days that will allow both players and coaches to rest amidst the season’s expanse.

The NCAA hockey season spans most of both semesters, as games take place from October to the Frozen Four in April.

“The hockey season is unlike other sports in college. We’re a two-semester sport that’s extended longer than basketball,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “So the break is necessary. You don’t want it to be too long, you don’t want the players to be off their skates too long.”

UMass is asking its players to bring their equipment home and skate a few times to stay in shape over the time away. The Minutemen have two regulation wins in their past six games. That includes two games that went to shootouts and one overtime loss. UMass still hasn’t dropped a game in regulation in conference play.

“You can lose momentum if you’re really playing well,” Carvel said. “Or it can be a good reset.”

But before that break, the Minutemen have two tasks: the game against the Warriors and their own finals. UMass is 2-0 against Merrimack this season, winning two high-scoring games in late October.

In terms of finals, Carvel and the coaching staff are being flexible about practice and ice time around the exam and studying schedules. UMass has traditionally boasted strong academics under Carvel. The Minutemen had eight Hockey East Academic All-Stars last season and a host of Academic All-Americans.

“We just set the standard. It’s what they do all year. They’ve had three months to do well on their finals,” Carvel said. “They’re expected to do well because that’s the standard. Kids are committed to doing everything the right way. After (Wednesday), the focus does transfer to the academic part, for sure, and the athletics definitely becomes secondary. But you’ve still got to stay in shape, and it’s a good way to take a break from studying, get on the ice for an hour.”

ADG POW – After notching three goals and an assist against UMass Lowell over the weekend, UMass senior forward Anthony Del Gaizo was named the Hockey East Player of the Week for the first time in his career. He had two goals at Tsongas Arena on Friday, both of which tied the game in the third period. His goal Saturday at the Mullins Center proved a game-winner 23 seconds into the third period.

“Those were all big time goals,” Carvel said. “To me, it was an easy decision.”

INJURY UPDATE – Junior forward Cal Kiefiuk will return to the Minutemen’s lineup Wednesday against Merrimack. He hasn’t played Nov. 12 against Boston University but had generated five points in the four games before his injury.

Carvel said he expects UMass’ other two injured forwards Josh Lopina and Garrett Wait back after the break.

JET LAG – UMass’ two players selected to Team USA’s preliminary roster for the upcoming 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship, defenseman Scott Morrow and goalie Luke Pavicich, won’t face a daunting travel gauntlet to return to the Minutemen.

They report to training camp Dec. 12 in Plymouth, Mich. The tournament runs from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 for the medal rounds. UMass plays at Union over New Year’s then will visit No. 3 Michigan on Jan. 8 and 9. World Juniors take place in Western Canada, so it won’t be nearly as daunting a return as Zac Jones made from the Czech Republic to Denver in 2019. 

He famously took a red eye flight, slept a few hours before the game then scored two goals in the second game of the series.

“The concern is always not their immediate games back but the month after the tournament, you see a lot of kids get injured,” Carvel said. “With Scotty, I don’t see that being an issue. He’s a hockey animal. He wants to be on the ice 24 hours a day.”

Morrow, who was the 40th overall pick in this summer’s NHL Draft, is a strong candidate to make the roster after generating 14 points in his first 11 games along with a steadily improving defensive edge.

“Scotty opened some eyes this summer. We had told him since the day he arrived, you’ve got a good chance to make that team if the other part of your game evolves, and he’s done a great job,” Carvel said. “Every game he gets better with and without the puck. He’s come a long way. Now every game he scores a highlight goal.”

Pavicich has a tougher fight as one of four goalies invited. One is BU netminder Drew Comesso along with two players who haven’t matriculated to the collegiate level yet. Pavicich hasn’t played a regulation game for the Minutemen yet behind graduate student starter Matt Murray but saw some ice time in the team’s exhibition against Dartmouth.

“It’s a great experience for him. I don’t know where he stacks up in that group, but because he’s not playing games for us, I think this is a great opportunity for him to gain experience that will eventually help our team,” Carvel said.

BACK TO BELFAST – It was announced Friday that UMass is returning to Northern Ireland to play in the Friendship Four for the first time since 2016. The event went on a two-year hiatus with the raging COVID-19 pandemic.

“We didn’t have a great team, but that’s probably as well as we played that year,” Carvel said. “It was a great experience, we still talk about it.”


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