UMass hockey ready to drop puck on 2020-21 season

  • UMass defensemen Marc Del Gaizo, left, and Colin Felix bu,p fists during preseason practice at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass forward Jake Gaudet skates during preseason practice at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass sophomore forward Cal Kiefiuk chases the puck along the boards during preseason practice at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass sophomore defenseman Zac Jones chases the puck against a teammate during preseason practice at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Sports Editor
Published: 11/19/2020 5:20:40 PM
Modified: 11/19/2020 5:20:30 PM

For six weeks the UMass hockey team was practicing for a season with an unknown starting date.

At one point head coach Greg Carvel felt his team hitting a wall, but then came the news from Hockey East that the puck will drop for the first time on Friday. That gave the team a jolt.

“I think about two weeks ago was really the only time we felt the guys were tired of running into each other and we needed to play somebody else,” Carvel said during a conference call on Tuesday. “When the league finally announced the schedule I think that rejuvenated everybody and practices have been really good since then. It’s trying to keep things fresh. I’ve been really happy with how – for the vast major – kids have come every day and worked really hard, it’s been impressive for a three-month stretch.”

The Minutemen were scheduled to travel to Maine on Thursday for games on Friday and Saturday. Maine, however, canceled the series on Wednesday.

“We are assessing each opportunity for our teams to compete within the context of rising COVID case counts and the threat of community transmission,” Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy said in a statement.

Hockey East reshuffled its schedule on Wednesday and UMass will now play a home-and-away series with UConn. The Minutemen will host the Huskies on Friday (6 p.m.) and visit UConn on Saturday (4 p.m.).

Junior defenseman Marc Del Gaizo was among those eager to get on the ice. Del Gaizo battled injuries through last season, missing 12 games.

“I’m very excited to get going. I had a long offseason, I think it was my biggest offseason I’ve ever had,” he said. “I’m very excited to get going here. We’ve been playing against each other for a while now and we’ve been fortunate enough to be on the same ice pretty much all fall as a team.”

The Minutemen were about to open the Hockey East Tournament in March when officials canceled the postseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Players returned to campus at the start of September and it’s been a long process filled with protocols to return to the ice.

“It was a long break from hockey, the longest I’ve been away from the sport since I can even remember,” said junior forward Bobby Trivigno, who returned to his home on Long Island during the break.

FINDING THE NET — The Minutemen are in search of production following the losses of junior forwards John Leonard and Mitchell Chaffee.

Leonard led the nation with 27 goals. The Amherst native signed with the San Jose Sharks after the season. Chaffee was second on the team with 29 points (16 goals, 13 assists). He signed with the Minnesota Wild in the offseason.

The pair were the only players to score double-digit goals. However, the Minutemen had several play-makers last season, as seven players recorded double-digit assists. Five of those players return, led by defenseman Zac Jones (three goals, 20 assists). The other players were Trivigno (nine, 11), forward Oliver Chau (five, 14), Del Gaizo (four, 11) and defenseman Colin Felix (one, 12).

“I think this is a different year that you won’t look at our score sheet and one or two guys are going to a mile ahead of everybody else,” Carvel said. “We’re going to have to really be a score by committee. We have enough quality players. I think our back end is really strong and will play a big part of our offense. We’ll have four good lines that all can score any night but how consistently can each line contribute. That’s going to the key.”

Carvel is expecting more from his senior forwards: Jake Gaudet (five points), Philip Lagunov (five points) and Chau.

“Our three senior forwards who have played a lot of hockey here and have been complimentary players here, now need to step forward and be more consistent offensively,” Carvel said.

Overall eight of the team’s 13 players who recorded double digits in points return. Trivigno is looking to be the guy at the front.

“I don’t really feel the pressure I think it’s just more of it’s just my time to step up,” he said. “Like Leno and Chaff, they played a huge role for us last year, now I’m a junior so it’s time to put my big boy pants on and try and lead the way in scoring and other ways as well.”

With an offensive-minded defense and several talented freshmen in the mix, the Minutemen have options.

“We feel like we have as a group the 20 guys we put on the ice,” Carvel said. “I like the depth of this team but you’re not going to probably see any Hobey Baker candidates on the ice out of the group.”

STRENGTH ON DEFENSE — The Minutemen open the season with two of the best goalies in Hockey East. Senior Matt Murray went 13-6-0 with a 1.86 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. Junior Filip Lindberg was 8-5-2 with a 1.91 GAA and a .927 save percentage.

“We got a really good D-core there, pretty talented group, pretty offensive group,” Del Gaizo said. “It really helps when you have two really good goaltenders backing us up.”

Jones, a sophomore, was the top-scoring rookie defenseman in Hockey East last year. He played for Team USA at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic.

Junior Ty Farmer and sophomore Matt Kessel join Del Gaizo and Jones among the top blueliners.

“We’ve really stressed to the team, and I showed them the stats last year, the top four teams in our league last year were the top four defensive teams,” Carvel said. “Offense doesn’t win, defense wins. We feel we got two strong goaltenders. I really like our top four defensemen. I’m ecstatic with our back end and then our forwards have to be able to contribute as a group. Our goal is to be one of the top defensive teams in the conference and if we do all that good things come from it.”

NEWCOMERS — The Minutemen have nine new players: six freshmen and three transfers.

Redshirt senior Carson Gicewicz is a graduate transfer from St. Lawrence. As a junior forward he led the Saints with 19 points (team-high 15 assists). He played in the season-opening series against Mercyhurst last season then missed the remainder of his year with an injury.

Garrett Wait is a junior forward who transferred from Minnesota. He recorded 13 points (four goals, nine assists) during his two seasons with the Golden Gophers.

Jerry Harding spent his freshman year at Providence before moving on to UMass. The forward did not register a point in 14 games.

The freshmen include: defensemen Linden Alger and Aaron Bohlinger, forwards Josh Lopina, Oliver MacDonald and Ryan Sullivan, and goalie Henry Graham.

Carvel said he expects top-line and power-play minutes from Gicewicz, Lopina and MacDonald.

The five skating freshmen all spent last season in the United State Hockey League.

“I tell all of them, ‘All you kids think the USHL is the elite junior league but very few of you know how to play hockey when you get here and so you need to be ready to learn and it comes at many different levels,’” Carvel said.

Several of the freshmen are on academic scholarships. Carvel said they are high-character players who have “worked themselves seamlessly into our program.”

The freshmen would typically arrive on campus during the summer to start training for the season. Due to the pandemic, they arrived in September and started building toward the season, using the last six weeks of ice time to get acclimated to college hockey.

“That’s been beneficial to our freshmen to make mistakes in practice and learn,” Carvel said. “I expect that. It doesn’t matter how much time a freshman has, it’s a rude awakening in Hockey East.”

NO FANS — Fans will not be allowed in the Mullins Center for games. Hockey East will partner with NESN and ViacomCBS Digital to broadcast every game either on TV or digital platforms.

All games will be made available on, while all games televised on NESN and NESN+ and other select matchups will also be made available on and the CBS Sports app outside of New England.

Mike Moran can be reached at Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.


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