UMass hockey: After being swept by BC, Minutemen turn page to series against UNH

Nick VanTassell and the UMass hockey team will play New Hampshire in a big home-and-home series this weekend. The Minutemen host the Wildcats on Friday night at the Mullins Center.

Nick VanTassell and the UMass hockey team will play New Hampshire in a big home-and-home series this weekend. The Minutemen host the Wildcats on Friday night at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

By THOMAS JOHNSTON

Staff Writer

Published: 02-22-2024 3:59 PM

With just six regular season games remaining on the schedule, the UMass hockey team must quickly turn the page after a pair of tough losses to top-ranked Boston College this past weekend. 

After falling to the Eagles, 5-1, on Friday, the Minutemen responded in Chestnut Hill on Sunday. UMass erased a 2-0 deficit early, ripped off three goals in the second period before a Dans Locmelis tally in the third gave the Minutemen a 4-3 lead. BC scored twice on the power play and tossed in an empty net goal to knock off UMass, 6-4. 

A frustrating defeat, Minutemen coach Greg Carvel said the discussions since have focused on what UMass needs to clean up moving forward. That starts by attempting to get back in the win column on Friday, when New Hampshire heads to the Mullins Center for a Hockey East showdown. 

The Minutemen (16-9-3) will travel to Durham, N.H. on Saturday to take on the Wildcats, with both games scheduled for 7 p.m. 

“It was business as usual,” Carvel said this week. “We didn’t bring up anything about refereeing. We brought up how we did not play to the level we should have. We got outplayed for some stretches of the game. Our goaltending was excellent. The character of our team showed through that we could find our footing, come back from a 2-0 deficit, take a 3-2 lead, take a 4-3 lead. Then, some things are out of your control. That’s the message. If we don't win, it’s about us. It’s not about anything else.

“I’ve said that there hasn’t been a game during the second half of the season that I didn’t think that we could have or should have won,” Carvel added. 

After preparing for a Boston College team that has some of the top skill players in the country — featuring three top 10 NHL draft picks — UNH presents a different kind of challenge for UMass. 

The Wildcats don’t have the high-end talent that a BC has, though their compete is what sets them apart and has them ranked No. 17 in PairWise. UMass is currently 15th in the PairWise, and both teams are right on the bubble for NCAA Tournament consideration.

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UNH (16-11-1) is coming off a pair of wins over Maine last weekend, scoring 11 goals in the two-game series. Carvel noted that preparing for Maine and the Wildcats is similar, feeling it’ll be a battle of wills this weekend against UNH. 

“All three teams are pretty similar,” Carvel said. “It’s compete level. It’s will versus skill. If we’re taking BU or BC we’re talking about neutralizing skill. Against Maine and UNH it’s more about matching compete level.”

The Wildcats enter tied for 17th in the country in goals allowed average (2.64) and tied for 19th in goals scored per game (3.18). 

Ryan Conmy is the top threat offensively for UNH, tallying 13 goals and 16 assists on the year. This past week Liam Devlin and Alex Gagne picked up Hockey East Weekly Honors, Devil being named Co-Player of the Week after posting four goals and an assist against the Black Bears while Gagne was named Defender of the Week after recording 12 blocks and two assists against Maine. 

“I see them as a very similar team to us,” Carvel said. “They’re a team that tries to outwork their opponent. I’ve heard — since this is the first time we’re seeing them and I haven’t watched a lot of their games — from people I know that have seen them beat BU and Quinnipiac just how hard they play. We’re going to try to have our guys prepared to compete at the highest level.” 

UMass freshman Aydar Suniev is coming off a two-goal performance against Boston College on Sunday, bringing his season total to 11 which leads the team. 

Having scored his last two games, getting Suniev going down the stretch would be a big boost for the Minutemen, as he brings natural goal scoring ability. 

“There’s few guys that think their identity is a goal scorer,” Carvel said. “That’s his identity. We haven’t had a lot of those guys. John Leonard, Bobby Travigno, Mitchell Chaffee, those are a couple guys who scoring goals was important to them. For Aydar, he feels good when he scores. We’re working hard to make him feel good when he helps other people score and earns pucks back and competes hard. He wants to score. That’s a tremendous talent. He works on it a lot. His second goal might not have looked like a lot but he had to put it bar down to score in tight. I preach that to players who don’t understand it but a goal scorer does.”