UMass hockey: Minutemen look to tighten up as Northeastern comes to Amherst

UMass left wing Jack Musa (9) and defender Linden Alger (5) work to stop the attack from AIC left wing Alexander Malinowski (25) earlier this season at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass left wing Jack Musa (9) and defender Linden Alger (5) work to stop the attack from AIC left wing Alexander Malinowski (25) earlier this season at the Mullins Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By HANNAH BEVIS

Staff Writer 

Published: 11-02-2023 7:22 PM

Consistency is the name of the game for the UMass ice hockey team. 

Against both Michigan and Boston University, the Minutemen had trouble finding their legs in the first game of back-to-back series. They came back strong against both teams in the second contest – besting Michigan 6-4 and tying BU 3-3 (though eventually fell in a shootout) – but UMass will have just one chance to find their game against Northeastern this weekend. The teams will clash just once at the Mullins Center on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. 

“We were humbled on Friday night I felt like. It didn't feel right leaving the rink. And although we didn't win the game on Saturday, it felt right leaving the rink and that's what I care about,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “Kids played hard, the BU goalie stood on his head and we counted 23 scoring chances for us. We may not have had 23 scoring stances in all our other games combined. So the kids came and they played hard and they showed me a lot… the key is to find us being able to consistently bring our best.” 

The team is in good shape going into the weekend – no players were out with injuries or illness as of Tuesday, which should help in the team’s search for consistency. The one other issue that has been a topic of discussion is the number of penalties the Minutemen have been taking. In general, Carvel was happy with how his team played over the weekend, but as much as discipline can be a controllable the team can work on, sometimes referees are going to think they saw something that may have not been the case. 

“We want to work less on the penalty kill and it's an ongoing discussion. I thought the guys did a much better job this weekend. We took three penalties on Friday night… one was a complete phantom call that the head of officials apologized to us for Saturday night,” Carvel said. “So as well as we can play… I believe that's part of the consistency issue is taking penalties they are just completely unnecessary.” 

Special teams could play an important role in Friday’s contest – Northeastern has the sixth-best power play in the country with a 27.3-percent success rate, two spots ahead of Massachusetts’ eighth-place rate of 25 percent. Staying out of the box will be all the more important when the Minutemen’s opponent has a one in four chance of putting the puck in the back of the net. The good news for the UMass scorers is that goalie phenom and two-time Mike Richter award winner Devon Levi is gone, signing an entry-level deal with the Buffalo Sabres last March. 

“(Northeastern is) a team that usually has a very effective power play, you want to make sure you don't give them too many chances there. They usually have good offensive talent, they usually have a game changer on the back end. And luckily, they have a new goalie. I'm not sure who it is, but I don't care who it is so long as it's not Levi,” Carvel said wryly. “Jerry (Keefe), he’s really good coach, they're very well-coached team.”

The Huskies are currently unranked, although they did receive votes. UMass stayed at No. 18 in the USCHO poll after losing and tying with No. 9 BU last week. 

Musa, Morrow honored

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Two of UMass’ players earned monthly Hockey East honors. Freshman Jack Musa earned the Hockey East Pro Ambitions Rookie of the Month and blueliner Scott Morrow was awarded the Hockey East Army ROTC Defender of the Month. 

Musa and Morrow currently lead the Minutemen in points, with 10 and nine points, respectively. Musa has scored three goals and Morrow has netted two, and all five of them have come on the power play, highlighting both players’ importance to the Minutemen’s special teams.

Carvel has sung Musa’s praises all season long, even comparing him to former captain and UMass icon Bobby Trivigno earlier in the season, high praise for a first-year. 

“He is very similar. I would say that he doesn't have as much of a will as Bobby had, but maybe a little more talent,” Carvel said when asked if there were similarities between the two players earlier in the season. “But very similar. He’s an undersized guy that finds a way to make an impact on the game.” 

The head coach was also complimentary of the junior defender, who made the decision to come back to UMass for a third season instead of trying to turn pro.

“He’s come a long, long way and I'm very, very proud of him. He's a kid that rode on talent for a long, long time. And we challenged him to match that talent with being a solid teammate, playing to our identity and he's done it all,” Carvel said. “His gave has, to me, been transformational… he's becoming a pro.”

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