UMass hockey visits AIC in matchup that keeps making sense

  • UMass captain and left wing Bobby Trivigno (8) takes a shot against Minnesota State in the third period Saturday night during the season opener at the Mullins Center in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • UMass faces off against Minnesota State in the first period Saturday night during the season opener at the Mullins Center in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/14/2021 5:39:01 PM

AMHERST — UMass’ first road trip of the hockey season will also be its shortest.

The ninth-ranked Minutemen will face AIC at 7:05 p.m. Friday at the MassMutual Center in Springfield for the first leg of a home-and-home series on consecutive nights. UMass (0-2) only has to drive 27 miles to face the Yellow Jackets, but it’s more than a matchup of convenience. AIC (0-1) has won the past three Atlantic Hockey regular season championships and qualified for the NCAA Tournament in 2019 and 2021 as conference tournament champions. The Yellow Jackets were ranked No. 20 in preseason polls but have since fallen into the “others receiving votes” category.

“It’s good competition, it’s good for the area. The one time we’ve played there since I’ve been here, it was a pretty full house,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “It’s a really good primer. (AIC coach Eric Lang’s) an excellent coach. They play with skill, they play with speed. I think it’s good for the area. Hopefully we’ll get two full buildings and play some good Western Mass hockey.”

UMass has won five of the past six meetings dating back to 2014. The teams have typically played once a season over the last decade or so but plan to continue with a two-game series in the future. AIC leads the all time series 22-16-1, which dates back to 1950. The programs didn’t meet between 2014 and 2008, and they only played once (1994) between 1979 and 2008. Some of that has to do with divisional alignments and UMass not fielding a program between 1979-93.

The Yellow Jackets  have played since 1948 and won two conference titles at that level. AIC moved up to Division I in 1998. Lang took over in 2016, same as Carvel, and had the Yellow Jackets in the NCAA Tournament in three years.

“Six years ago, it was a good matchup when we were the two worst teams in the country and today it makes a whole lot of sense as well. Obviously I’m a big fan of what UMass has been able to accomplish. Greg Carvel is as good as any coach in the county,” Lang said.  “We’ve been able to write a pretty neat story here in terms of where we were to where we are now. Our program is in really good shape in terms of the sustainability. We haven’t been a one-trick pony.”

AIC opened the season with an exhibition loss at Boston College then fell 5-1 at home against Providence on Saturday. The Yellow Jackets scored the opening goal in that contest but couldn’t keep the No. 11 Friars at bay.

They return 23 players from last year’s NCAA Tournament squad, including two of their top three points producers in senior forward Chris Theodore (19 points) and grad student Chris Dodero (18 points). Jake Kucharski has taken over the net after splitting time with Stefano Durante last season.

“A lot of guys that have won a lot of hockey games, a lot of guys that have played in meaningful hockey games. The strength of our team is the team,” Lang said. “

UMass hasn’t played since Oct. 3, the second night of a home sweep against now top-ranked Minnesota State. The Minutemen turned their focus inward during the stretch without games. They focused on giving greater effort and finding more cohesion, two qualities that helped them win their first national championship last year.

“We’ve been focusing a lot on our details and discipline,” UMass junior defenseman Matthew Kessel said. “Most of that has to do with our defense and staying above other players, basically being harder to play against. Getting back to our game, and that’s when things should go our way.”

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


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