UMass hockey: Minutemen back in action at Vermont; BC’s Ryan Leonard earns Hockey East Player of the Week honors

Denver defenseman Zeev Buium (28) keeps the puck away from Boston College forward Ryan Leonard (9) during action earlier this season in Chestnut Hill. Leonard was named the Hockey East Player of the Week.

Denver defenseman Zeev Buium (28) keeps the puck away from Boston College forward Ryan Leonard (9) during action earlier this season in Chestnut Hill. Leonard was named the Hockey East Player of the Week. AP FILE


Staff Writer

Published: 11-30-2023 2:20 PM

There’s a lot going right for the UMass men’s ice hockey team in the first half of the season. 

The Minutemen (9-3-1) currently sit No. 10 in both the USCHO and USA Hockey/The Rink national polls, and are riding a three-game win streak going into December; two of those wins came against Providence, the fifth-best team in the nation at the time they played (they’ve since dropped to the No. 9 spot, just one ahead of UMass). 

The Minutemen have just a handful of games before they’ll get a brief break around Christmas, and one of those is Friday’s contest against Vermont. The Catamounts are one of just three teams that have bested UMass this year, and they did it in convincing fashion with a 6-2 victory on Nov. 11. That loss is still on head coach Greg Carvel’s mind, and while he’s made it clear that his team is correcting its mistakes from that game, he’s keeping the specifics close to the vest. 

“The second game that we lost, I think the score was indicative of the game but there were parts of the game that we needed to be better at and we are already addressing it,” Carvel said. “Obviously not going to share too much here, but we will do our best to make some adjustments.”

UMass will travel to Vermont to play its third contest against the Catamounts. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. on Friday, with fans able to watch the game on ESPN-Plus and listen on WHMP (FM 101.5, AM 1240/1400). 

The two teams split their first series of the year – the Minutemen won the first contest 4-1 before dropping the second in that 6-2 defeat. Ironically, that second game was the last UMass defeat. After that contest, UMass went on to sweep No. 5 Providence and bested Harvard 6-5 last weekend. 

If there’s anything to keep an eye on this weekend, it might be who gets the start in the crease. The squad’s go-to starter Michael Hrabal was chased in the team’s win against Harvard after allowing five goals on 15 shots. Backup Cole Brady stopped all seven shots he faced in relief. It’s not the first time Hrabal has been pulled; ironically, he also got yanked in the loss to Vermont, where he let up four goals on 14 shots. The coaching staff has confidence in him, and he still got the start against Providence after the Vermont fiasco. It’s likely the same will happen against Vermont this time – Carvel has spoken at length about how Hrabal is one of the team’s hardest workers – but this might not be a bad game to give Brady the start, especially since Hrabal struggled the last time he faced the Catamounts. 

Another group worth watching is the line of Cole O’Hara, Kenny Connors and Taylor Makar, who Carvel said kept the Minutemen in the game against Harvard. It’s not certain whether they’ll stay together for the upcoming contest, but Carvel had high praise for all three of them after they stepped up in a major way against the Crimson. 

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“I thought that was Cole’s best game of the year, he made an outstanding play on the game winning goal. Kenny sets a game-tying goal and scores the game winner. And I thought that's why we were as good as we were in that game, is that line was as good as they've been this year,” Carvel said. “With Taylor, I think that group is growing together. We've needed O’Hara’s game to come around and it was trending and then it took a big step forward. If we can get play like that from him all year long, it'll help us a lot.” 

Leonard earns Player of the Week honors

In other local hockey news, Amherst native Ryan Leonard has once again made headlines with an impressive weekend for Boston College. 

Leonard was named Hockey East’s Player of the Week thanks to a four-goal performance that helped the Eagles to two wins. The freshman notched a pair of goals against No. 18 Notre Dame in a 6-1 win and scored another pair in a 4-1 victory over No. 20 Harvard. The goals extended his eight-game point streak, during which he’s scored eight goals and dished out three assists.