UMass hockey: Minutemen welcoming No. 6 Michigan for weekend pair at the Mullins Center

UMass left wing Taylor Makar (18), left, feeds a pass toward the net past AIC left wing Alexander Malinowski (25) in the third period Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass left wing Taylor Makar (18), left, feeds a pass toward the net past AIC left wing Alexander Malinowski (25) in the third period Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass head coach Greg Carvel talks with his team in the first period against AIC on Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass head coach Greg Carvel talks with his team in the first period against AIC on Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By HANNAH BEVIS 

Staff Writer 

Published: 10-12-2023 5:27 PM

Modified: 10-12-2023 5:27 PM


Opening weekend went about as well as it could have for the UMass ice hockey team, as the Minutemen picked up a convincing 5-3 win against AIC on Saturday before securing a 5-1 win over Dartmouth in an exhibition contest on Sunday. While the Dartmouth game won’t count in the standings, it’s a good indicator that the team is trending in the right direction to start the season. 

This weekend, however, they’ll face a much more difficult opponent in No. 6 Michigan. The Wolverines are a perennial contender for a national championship, and last year’s squad made it all the way to the Frozen Four before bowing out to eventual champion Quinnipiac, 5-2, in the semifinals. UMass will host Michigan for two contests, the first happening on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center. 

“They're a fast team. They've (got) a very, very good back end, very talented offensively. So we're gonna have to play a very tight defensive game, very smart game, manage the puck as well as we can and make sure our details defensively are very good,” UMass head coach Greg Carvel said. “Limit(ing) rush chances up the ice is always key when you play a high-skilled team, eliminating really high-end scoring chances. I don't think we can limit shots, but we need to limit the quality of the shots.”

Michigan (1-1) had a bit of a rocky start to its 2023-24 season, splitting an opening series with No. 18 Providence. That said, the club still won’t be an easy matchup for UMass – despite losing their top three scorers last season in Adam Fantilli, Luke Hughes and Mackie Samoskevich along with starting netminder Erik Portillo, the Wolverines are more than capable of filling in the gaps with top end talent. 

One of the names to watch out for is Rutger McGroarty, a 2022 first-round draft pick by the Winnipeg Jets. McGroarty posted a four-point game in the team’s second tilt against Providence, a 5-4 win, and added a point in their first matchup. 

Dylan Duke, T.J. Hughes and Gavin Brindley have also proven themselves to be significant offensive threats, and also back for Michigan is sophomore Frank Nazar III, who was the 13th overall pick in the 2022 Draft, one spot ahead of teammate McGroarty. Nazar missed most of last year due to injury, but should be a formidable threat this year now that he’s healthy. 

Phone a friend

Carvel knows what to expect when Michigan rolls into town – he and his assistant coaches have kept an eye on the program since UMass last played them in 2022 (a pair of losses, 4-1 and 4-2 in Ann Arbor). He’s also using his connections to get other coaches’ thoughts on the Wolverines, calling up Providence head coach Nate Leaman earlier this week for some insight. 

“It also helps when you call the coach of the other team and ask him for some insight, which I did. I think it's important that teams in the same conference help each other out in these situations and I'd be happy to do the same, I know I have in the past,” Carvel said. “I contacted Nate [earlier this week] just to confirm what I thought I was seeing on video and he did and shared some other things. So yeah, it's helpful. We’ve got to help each other in our league when we're not facing off head to head.”

Back in the lineup

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UMass will get some significant reinforcements back for their tilt against Michigan. Both senior defender Aaron Bohlinger and freshman forward Aydar Suniev will be available for Friday’s matchup against Michigan, as will Ryan Lautenbach, who played last Saturday against AIC but sat out of the exhibiton game against Dartmouth. 

Carvel knows what to expect from Bohlinger and Lautenbach, and knows those two will be a big boost to the team. But Suniev has surprised him so far in practice, and might make a bigger impact right off the bat than the coach initially thought. 

“He does play on our first power play unit, looked very good in practice. He's a big, skilled kid who’s playing harder than I expected he would, competing harder on the body and really, I think, thriving on it,” Carvel said. “So he should be a very big addition to our lineup.”

Class pride

Both forward lines and defensive pairs are likely to shift a little bit this week with the addition of Suniev and Bohlinger back to the lineup, but one thing that’s likely to stay the same is the top two lines of juniors Taylor Makar, Lucas Mercuri and Lautenbach and sophomores Michael Cameron, Kenny Connors and Cole O’Hara, both of which made splashes over the opening weekend. 

Part of the reason those lines have been clicking is the chemistry the players have both on and off the ice, in part because each trio is from the same class. 

“I like that we have our forward lines are basically by class. That helps with a connection in the unity of those lines,” Carvel said. 

Carvel also mentioned prior to the season starting that the team hopes to have an all-freshman line at some point this year, so it could be a trend that’s likely to continue. 

Hannah Bevis can be reached at hbevis@gazettenet.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.