UMass hockey: Minutemen travel to Minnesota State for weekend set

UMass senior goalie Cole Brady (34) makes a save against AIC in the first period earlier this season at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass senior goalie Cole Brady (34) makes a save against AIC in the first period earlier this season at the Mullins Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By HANNAH BEVIS 

Staff Writer 

Published: 10-19-2023 4:05 PM

Modified: 10-19-2023 4:06 PM


After getting their skates under them on the ice over the first two weekends of the season, this weekend’s tilts against No. 19/20 Minnesota State will be an important mental test for the UMass hockey team. 

For the first time this season, the Minutemen (2-1) are hitting the road for an away contest. Technically, the team did travel for an exhibition game against Dartmouth, but that game was much more low stakes and also much closer of a commute. Minnesota State will be a tougher opponent, both because of their skill and also because UMass will be venturing into enemy territory.

“We understand that it takes more to win on the road. We understand we're going into a hostile environment. That's hostile meaning it'll be a good crowd, good energy, a lot of energy shared against us,” UMass head coach Greg Carvel said. “I've told them already we passed the test this past weekend. Physically, we showed what we're capable of. This is going to be more about mentally how can we handle going on the road.”

Minnesota State should pose another good challenge for UMass after passing a test of its own during opening weekend. The previously unranked Mavericks swept No. 10 St. Cloud State to open its season, relying on an overtime goal from Adam Eisele to pick up a 3-2 win the first night before cruising to a 5-1 victory to complete the sweep. The pair of wins was good enough to get them in both the NCAA and USCHO rankings; UMass received some votes after splitting with No. 6 Michigan but hasn’t yet cracked the top 20. 

The Mavericks have a new person behind the bench this year in Luke Strand, who took over for longtime coach Mike Hastings. Hastings was at the helm of Minnesota State for 11 years, famously reviving the program before he took the head coaching job at Wisconsin prior to this season. Strand doesn’t have a lot of NCAA experience, serving as an assistant coach at Ohio State last year, but he does have a successful track record in the USHL. 

Last year, Minnesota State posted a 25-13-1 record and won the CCHA title before getting knocked out by St. Cloud State 4-0 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. This will be an much different-looking Mavericks team this year however, as the program features 10 new players and an all-new coaching staff. 

The two teams have faced off once before at the Mullins Center to open the 2021-22 season. Minnesota State swept the Minutemen 2-0 and 6-3, and four players who were on that Mavericks team will face off again against UMass –  Lucas Sowder, Tony Malinowski, Zach Krajnik and Josh Groll.

“They look like a real honest team that plays the game the right way. They don't beat themselves. They just play the right way consistently. I told my team that too –  that's the mental challenges. Can we maintain our game for 60 (minutes) and who's going to break first?” Carvel said. “I don't expect it to be a very high-scoring weekend. They look like they really collapse to the net, they've got an athletic goaltender and there’s not going to be odd man rushes up and down the ice.” 

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Alex Tracy starte both games for Minnesota State, allowing three goals total with a .943 save percentage, and is likely to be back in the crease against UMass. The Minutemen will likely have either Cole Brady or Michael Hrabal in net, though Carvel was tight-lipped this week on which one would get the start for Friday’s first of two contests. 

Players to watch for UMass include freshman Jack Musa, who’s leading the team in points with six (1G, 5A) and two blueliners, Ryan Ufko and Scott Morrow, who have five and four points, respectively. Samuli Niinisaari should be back in the lineup after illness sidelined him against Michigan and Carvel also expects freshman forward Dans Locmelis to get into the lineup at some point during the weekend. 

The first game between the two teams will be on Friday night with the puck dropping at 8:07 p.m. ET. Saturday’s game will start an hour earlier at 7:07 p.m. ET. Fans can listen to the games on WHMP (FM 101.5, AM 1240/1400) and watch on flohockey.tv. 

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