UMass hockey notebook: Seniors need to step up scoring for Minutemen

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 01-18-2023 4:20 PM

AMHERST – The pillars of the UMass hockey program – its experienced seniors and graduate students – haven’t been providing any stability lately. Senior captain Eric Faith, assistant captains Reed Lebster and Jerry Harding and four-year player Cal Kiefiuk, along with Michigan State transfer Josh Nodler have combined for four points in the Minutemen’s recent six-game morass. Graduate student Matt Koopman put away a goal at Boston University on Jan. 11, but that’s the only tally since Dec. 28 from a player with at least four years experience.

“It’s their time. They've been on some good teams here. They know what they should be doing,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “It's been communicated clearly to them. It's a big hole in our lineup.”

The Minutemen (9-10-3, 3-8-1 Hockey East) are 2-5-2 in their past nine games and have lost their last three. The haven’t won a regulation game since Nov. 25 in Northern Ireland against UMass Lowell. UMass has averaged 1.67 goals per game over its last three and hasn’t put in three goals since shutting out Brown 3-0 on Jan. 3.

Lebster leads the group with 14 points (third on the team) and has five goals and nine assists. He hasn’t graced the score sheet since Dec. 7 against Merrimack.

“We haven’t been producing as much as we should. There’s a lot of us that don’t have points in the last few games, and as seniors that’s our role. We need to start producing more for the team,” Lebster said. “The freshmen are doing a lot of the scoring right now. In practice we talk about it a lot, focusing on scoring goals a lot more.”

OLD DOGS, NEW TRICKS – UMass will face No. 13 UConn for the first time this weekend in a return to Friday/Saturday conference series after some irregularity in days and times. The Huskies (13-7-3, 8-6-2) have lost their last two games and four conference games in a row. 

“They’re a hard-working team just like us. We need to match that and even be better,” Lebster said. “The seniors, if we can make a bigger impact on the game and match their intensity and even go above it, that’s going to be really big for us.”

UConn was ranked as high as No. 7 in the country in early November and received first-place votes. The Huskies are third in Hockey East with 27 points. They reached the conference championship game for the first time in program history last year before falling against UMass in overtime.

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“They've done a good job with good structure, and they compete hard. Add good skill level to it. I’ve got a lot of respect for (UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh) and what he's done there,” Carvel said.

Ryan Tverberg leads the Huskies with 10 goals, while Hudson Schandor has 14 assists. Four UConn players have at least six goals.

“They've got a lot of depth that I think they've recruited really well. They've got a lot of good players up and down the lineup. They’re as deep at forward as any team in our league, and they compete,” Carvel said. 

UConn will visit the Mullins Center at 7 p.m. Friday (NESN-Plus), and UMass will travel to Storrs at 4:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN-Plus) in just the second men’s game in the newly christened Toscano Family Ice Forum. Northeastern spoiled the opening ceremonies with a 4-3 win on Jan. 14.

The 2,600-seat arena was supposed to be construction in 2016 as part of the conditions that admitted the Huskies to Hockey East, but work didn’t begin until May 2021. UConn will play its final four home games and any postseason contest it hosts on campus after using the XL Center in Hartford, Conn., for many contests.

“I'm not a big fan of the Hartford situation. Maybe it's because we haven't fared very well there,” Carvel said. “I like on campus sites.”

UNRANKED – After the slide, UMass dropped out of the national rankings released Monday for the first time since Oct. 2018 after falling against New Hampshire on Sunday. It now sits ninth in the Hockey East standings with 11 points, below Maine. The Minutemen are 15 points out of the No. 5 seed and avoiding the preliminary round of the conference tournament.

“It’s a matter of we do it in spurts. You see it in the first period against UNH. We’re just trying to put it together for a full 60 minutes,” Koopman said. “It takes everybody not to fall and quit on this group. It’s an opportunity to keep believing. No one’s quitting on this season at all.”

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