Makar karma launches Minutemen

  • UMass forward Bobby Trivigno skates with the puck around the net as Merrimack goalie Troy Kobryn defends during action last month in Amherst. AP FILE

For the Recorder
Published: 12/10/2019 9:45:19 PM

It’s unfair to hold the light of last year’s dream season to this year’s UMass hockey team, but it’s unavoidable when the legend incarnate shows up to watch his banner be raised to the rafters.

Dressed in black slacks and a maroon zip-up sweater on Friday, reigning Hobey Baker winner Cale Makar stood in the right face-off circle and waved to the Mullins Center faithful who came to salute the best hockey player in school history.

Others might argue the best player was Jon Quick, not for reaching the 2006-07 regional finals at UMass but for back-stopping the LA Kings to two Stanley Cup championships. On neither occasion did Quick bring the Stanley Cup to Amherst. Lord Stanley’s only visit to the valley was five years ago courtesy of Kings’ trainer Chris Kingsley, a  Greenfield native who brought it to the Collins-Moylan Arena for an FCHA fundraiser.

Quick grew up in Connecticut and played prep school hockey at Avon Old Farms. When he was with the Kings he told teammate Rob Scuderi that UMass wasn’t his first choice. “He said he wanted to play at Quinnipiac because it was close to home,” said Scuderi, who was at the Mullins Center scouting for Nashville.

When the Bobcats said no thanks, Quick came to Amherst.

Makar grew up in Calgary and was recruited by former UMass coach John Micheletto.  Makar’s career hadn’t begun to flourish when he committed to UMass on August 27, 2015. He played for the Brooks (Alberta) Bandits and from 2015-17 he scored 153 points in 126 games.

Micheletto was gone by the time Makar was drafted fourth overall by the Colorado Avalanche in 2017, but he told coach Greg Carvel he’d honor his UMass commitment.

During the ceremony, he stood next to Carvel watching his Bobby Orr-type moves up on the scoreboard. He glided over the ice and zipped past defensemen. He was humble and respectful and it rubbed off on his teammates.

Now he’s the NHL’s rookie points leader and the betting favorite to win the Calder Trophy. He’s also day-to-day from a body check delivered by Brad Marchand on Saturday.

After his whirlwind visit to Amherst, Marchand was probably telling him, ‘Welcome back to the real world, kid.’

****

Insiders predicted that without top guns Makar, Mario Ferraro and Jacob Pritchard, UMass wouldn’t be more than a .500 team. The jury was out on that verdict until last weekend’s sweep of Maine. The two-fer lifted the Minutemen into a tie for second place in Hockey East and got them back into the top 10 of the Division 1 rankings.

After Tuesday night’s win on the road at Brown, UMass enters their 18-day Christmas break 12-4-1, slightly behind last year when they were 14-3 through 17 games.

In October Carvel said his team was in search of a new identity. After a 6-1 start they lost at UNH and BU, and on Nov. 22 Philip Lagunov’s cross check allowed Merrimack to score the tying goal and drop UMass to 3-3-1 in Hockey East.

“We’ve talked about that cross check to the back in the D-zone a thousand times,” Carvel told WHMP’s Donnie Moorhouse on the postgame show. “This is the furthest we’ve been from our identity in the last year-and-a-half.”

The next night in North Andover, the Minutemen quickly fell behind, 2-0. “They don’t have their swagger,” said radio analyst Brock Hines.

“They don’t have a reason for swagger,” replied Moorhouse.

Trailing by two goals and in danger of losing the season series to the lowly Warriors, Carvel asked his team one question: “Can we just play the way we’re supposed to play?”

The Minutemen scored three unanswered goals, including rookie Cal Kiefiuk’s game-winner with 42 seconds left, but the inconsistency continued with a 2-1 home loss to Quinnipiac on Thanksgiving weekend. “We got what we deserved,” said a bitter Carvel. “We got beat by a well-coached team that was more desperate.”

Three losses and a tie in less than a month dropped the Minutemen out of the top 10 and put them at the crossroads against Maine. The Black Bears were off to their best start (8-5-3) since 2013-14, and Bruins draft choice Jeremy Swayman was stopping everything. 

Perhaps inspired by Makar’s presence, UMass beat the Black Bears 5-1 on Friday night, and 4-1 the following night. Eight different players tweaked the twine, and Carvel called the wins a team effort. “We were desperate and ready to play,” he said.

****

If Maine can’t beat you, they’ll settle for beating you up. On Friday night, defenseman JD Greenway hit Jeremy Davidson with a leg check near the blue line. The fourth-line winger was helped to the locker room by Ty Farmer and Jake McLaughlin.

Greenway is a formidable 6-5, 215-pound transfer from Wisconsin whose brother Jordan plays in the NHL. He was tagged with a five-minute major and game misconduct, and in the third period defenseman Adrien Bisson was ejected for contact to the head.

During the postgame handshakes, referee Thomas Fryer got between Carvel and Maine coach Red Gendron. Asked about the brief but intense exchange, Carvel said, “That’s between me and Red.”

****

Going into Tuesday night’s game at Brown, the Minutemen had scored four fewer goals than last season but had also allowed four fewer goals. Their 29 goals against is the fifth fewest in Division 1.

The blue line has been anchored by returning lettermen Jake McLaughlin (who played in his 120th game on Saturday), Ty Farmer and Colin Felix, together with newcomers Zac Jones and Matthew Kessel and now the return of All-Rookie defenseman Marc Del Gaizo.

“They’ve done an unbelievable job of breaking pucks out and creating a lot of offense,” said Carvel.

The biggest surprise is between the pipes where junior Matt Murray is outplaying Filip Lindberg, the highly touted sophomore from Finland. Murray is third in the country in goals against average (1.39), and ninth in save percentage (.932). Best of all, the team is 7-1 when he’s in the crease.

Lindberg’s .916 save percentage is below last year’s .934, but Carvel continues to have faith in both his netminders. “It’s a luxury to have two good goalies,” he told Brock Hines. “One’s ready to go if the other’s not pulling his weight.”

****

One question: Where’s the crowds? The Minutemen are averaging 500 fewer fans a game. Their biggest draws have been against Union (5,659) and BU (5,583), significantly less than last year when they sold out against Quinnipiac, drew 7,124 for the UConn game and 6,317 for the Providence game. 

According to the College Hockey News, Boston College is sixth in D-1 attendance (5,727) while UNH is 12th (4,967) and UMass is 15th (4,337).

True, they’re without Makar, but tickets are cheap and the team is the defending league champion.

The fault lies in marketing and promotions, and also in the insistence of putting everyone through a metal detector.

The Cale Makar ceremony was the perfect occasion for a promotion — Cale Makar bobbleheads, Cale Makar T-shirts, Cale Makar towels — crowds love a giveaway and Friday was the perfect night to attract new fans but instead the usual 4,507 showed up for the game.

****    

Anyone who’s ever pond skated knows that the difference between great ice and bad ice is two degrees. When the temps rise above freezing the blades dig into the ice, the puck skids to a stop and the game becomes awkward and disjointed.

Lately an inordinate number of players, linesmen and refs have been falling down behind the net on the south end of the rink. Many rinks use two Zambonis to help the water freeze and the ice to settle between periods.

Two longtime season ticket holders with front row seats, Tony and Irene, recently asked Carvel why they didn’t use two Zambonis. Irene said he looked at her and replied, “You need to make a donation.”

****

HOCKEY NOTEBOOK: Watch out for Boston College, the Eagles are on a nine-game tear and Spencer Knight has a 1.00 goals against average. Knight was the Florida Panthers’ first pick (13th overall) in the June draft. … The Eagles swept Notre Dame by an aggregate 10-1 count and have only UVM left to play before they take on UMass on Jan. 10 and 11. … By contrast the Minutemen have a busy holiday schedule. They play at RPI on Dec. 29 and fly to Colorado for back-to-back games against No. 8 Denver on Jan. 3-4. …  The all-time leading scorer in UMass history, Pat Keenan, saw his name and No. 4 raised to the rafters on Saturday night. “I’m a symbolic representative of a whole era,” Keenan told NESN, referring to when UMass was a D-2 team coached by Jack Canniff. They played at Amherst College’s Orr Rink and were largely ignored because the public was enthralled by a spindly kid playing hoops in the UMass Cage named Julius Erving. …  AIC wasn’t helped much at the gate by its NCAA tournament run. The Yellow Jackets are up a couple of hundred fans per game but still averaging under a thousand at the MassMutual Center. … The team from whence Carvel arrived, St. Lawrence, is averaging a dreadful 551 fans a game. … The two top draws in Division 1 are the University of North Dakota (11,171) and Wisconsin (10,368). … Here’s a surprise, 19 players on the University of Minnesota hockey team actually live in Minnesota. … Former Minuteman Brad Arvanitis was named New England Hockey Conference goalie of the week after he helped Babson shut out Williams. The next night Aidan Murphy turned aside 50 shots during the Beavers’ 1-1 overtime tie at Amherst. ….  Bad ice at the Whittemore Center forced UNH to postpone last Friday’s game against Merrimack. The compressors were fixed and the game was played Sunday. UNH won 5-2. … Minnesota State goalie Dryden McKay leads the NCAA with a 1.06 goals against average and .957 save percentage. On Sirius-XM’s “Hockey on Campus,” McKay told Bernie Corbett that his parents named him after Ken Dryden, and instead of saying it’s a boy in the local newspaper, the birth announcement proclaimed, “It’s a goalie!”


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