‘It’s a hockey game, but it’s a little more than that’: UMass hockey focusing on business ahead of Frozen Fenway matchup against Boston College


Staff Writer

Published: 01-06-2023 5:28 PM

UMass hockey coach Greg Carvel can’t even pull a Norman Dale, the Hickory high basketball coach who told his team the rims in massive state tournament gym are just as tall as the ones at home in Hoosiers, when the Minutemen play at Fenway Park. The hockey rink laid down in front of the Green Monster isn’t the size of the one at the Mullins Center. It matches the dimensions of the one the Boston Bruins play on at TD Garden.

UMass will play a hockey game Saturday when it faces off with Boston College as part of the Frozen Fenway series (6 p.m. NESN). Carvel and his staff have focused on reminding the Minutemen of that amidst the pageantry.

“Players are always looking for cues. If they see me acting differently, then they’re gonna act different,” Carvel said. “Hopefully we get to go on the ice Friday and they can get some of the oohs and ahhs out first. Against BC, hopefully just we can keep things even until everyone just gets past the circumstances and get into just we’re playing a hockey game.”

Easier for him to say. Carvel has been there before. The Minutemen lost to Boston University at Fenway his first season in 2016-17.

“Everything you do a second time it’s a little bit more enjoyable, because you can prepare and plan better. I’m sure that’ll be the case,” Carvel said. “It’ll be a night game. Last time we played in the afternoon, so I’m a little curious about how that will be a different feel. As long as it’s not as cold as it was last time. I’ll be happy.”

It will be the first outdoor game of this scale for UMass’ entire roster. Five Massachusetts natives play for the Minutemen. America’s Most Beloved Ballpark carries different weight for them.

“Growing up, you always go to Red Sox games. There’s a lot of guys on the team from Mass now. It’s a cool experience,” said forward Jerry Harding, from Canton. “It’s a hockey game, but it’s a little more than that. In a big venue like that, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Some of them watched the Bruins in the Winter Classic last week together and realized they’d skate on the same sheet.

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“You’re kind of getting some chills getting the opportunity to go out there. Playing that game will be awesome. Obviously take it in during the practices and whatever, warmups and whatnot,” said Matt Koopman, from Marblehead. “When it’s time to drop the puck, we’ll be ready to go against BC – obviously another good team. We’ve got to come out and get the job done.”

No. 15 UMass (8-7-3, 3-6-1 Hockey East) hasn’t defeated the Eagles (7-6-4, 5-3-3) since Feb. 26, 2021, knocking off then the No. 1 team in the country in overtime. This is a different BC team. Legendary coach Jerry York retired after last season, and longtime assistant Greg Brown took over. The Eagles split their past two games at Arizona State and haven’t played yet in the calendar year.

BC freshman Cutter Gauthier ranks fourth in Hockey East averaging 1.23 points per game and is second in the league with 10 goals despite missing games representing the United States the IIHF World Junior Championships, where he won a bronze medal with UMass’ Kenny Connors and Ryan Ufko.

The Eagles boasts Hockey East’s second-best power play scoring 22.4 percent of the time.

UMass has the league and country’s best man advantage, converting 33.3 percent.

“We’ll have our hands full. They get a lot generated from their defense. Their power play is outstanding,” Brown said. “We’re going to have to be sharp when they have the puck, and we’re going to have to manage it very well when we have it.”

Those Xs and Os concerns can feel far away when you can see the Red Sox dugout from the penalty box. But that’s a moment worth remembering and holding on to. There will be a lot of those for the Minutemen, even as they focus on neutral zone pressures and power play cycles.

“You have to walk that line of really enjoying the experience,” Carvel said. “But it’s a lot more enjoyable if you play hard and you win the game.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>