UMass hockey: Minutemen prepare to face Alaska Anchorage for first time

UMass forward Michael Cameron (27) celebrates a third period goal against AIC earlier this season at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass forward Michael Cameron (27) celebrates a third period goal against AIC earlier this season at the Mullins Center in Amherst. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE


Staff Writer

Published: 12-07-2023 4:14 PM

Modified: 12-07-2023 4:20 PM

An unfamiliar opponent is coming to the Mullins Center on Friday to take on the Massachusetts hockey team. 

Alaska Anchorage — which has never played UMass — will make the cross-country trek to Amherst for a two-game series against the Minutemen. The first game is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday with the second set for the same time on Saturday.

Having already played 10 games on the road, and playing a predominate road schedule due to its location, UMass coach Greg Carvel is expecting to see a tough Seawolves team this weekend. 

“Steve Trachtenberg, my director of hockey operations, he does a lot of the scheduling,” Carvel said. “We work together but he makes the calls. Alaska is a team that’s an independent so they have to search for games. At the time we needed two more games to finish out our schedule this year. Alaska travels a lot and it was convenient for us. 

“I’m excited,” Carvel added. “I’ve never coached against either of the Alaska teams [Anchorage or Juneau]. I’ve been to Alaska recruiting and I know it’s a long ways. It toughens you up and that’s what we’ll face this weekend, a tough hockey team.” 

Carvel is not stranger to long road trips. He mentioned during his press availability on Tuesday how he likes to put his team on a long bus ride every once and a while to challenge them.

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He said he sees Alaska Anchorage (6-11-1) bringing a similar energy to what the Minutemen had when they upset Ohio State back in 2019. 

“In 2019 we played out at Ohio State and they were No. 1 in the country,” Carvel said. “We could have flown but I said ‘no, we’re putting the kids on a bus.’ They all [complained] and they still [complain] about it. Coaches still bring it up but we went out there and beat them soundly the first night. The second night we lost. At St. Lawrence we got on the bus and went to Western Michigan, Penn State, Miami Ohio and we won every time. That’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re supposed to make life a little uncomfortable every once and a while and see what people do when things are uncomfortable.” 

One way UMass (9-4-1) can send the Seawolves home unhappy is to capitalize on the power play. 

Alaska Anchorage leads the NCAA in penalties taken (83) and has allowed 19 goals on the penalty kill, with its .771 penalty kill percentage putting it 53rd in the country. 

“They’re probably the most penalized because they play almost all their games on the road,” Carvel said. “That’s probably part of it and that’s hockey. They do play an aggressive, physical style. Combination of those two things is why they’re so penalized.”

The Minutemen have been strong on the power play this season, scoring 12 goals on 56 man-up opportunities.

That wasn’t the case Friday against Vermont — UMass’ last time on the ice — when it went 0-for-4 on the power play. Scoring on the man advantage is always key and with Alaska Anchorage’s penchant for committing penalties, the Minutemen should have plenty of chances to capitalize on the power play this weekend. 

“Special teams will always make a difference in the game,” Carvel said. “We couldn’t score on the power play against Vermont, they scored and won the game. That was the difference. Usually the goaltender and special teams decide the game. I’m fairly happy with both of our special teams. Our power play is at 22 percent and I’d like it to be at about 25 with the talent we have. Penalty kill has been solid.” 

The 2-1 loss to the Catamounts snapped a three-game win streak for the Minutemen. 

Getting back in the win column is what Carvel said his team is focused on. He’s looking at what they need to do better, rather than focusing on the opponent. 

“I told the team that they can beat good teams on the road,” Carvel said. “That’s not easy to do. It’s one of these weekends where the message will be it’s about what we do, not about what the opponent does. I know they’re going to come in and compete hard. I used to be in this spot being the underdog. It’s easy to coach the underdog team and go in there and say they don’t respect us. Our job is to be a little desperate after losing to Vermont.” 

Saturday’s game against the Seawolves will be UMass’ final game before the winter break. The Minutemen are off until Dec. 29, when they travel to Lake Placid for the inaugural Adirondack Winter Invitational along with Cornell, Arizona State and Clarkson.

“It’d be nice to go into break with two solid wins,” Carvel said. “We’re not just going to show up and win. They’ll be good battles.”