Hockey East Preview: UMass Minutemen

umassHead Coach: Greg Carvel – 3rd season (22-49-4)

Last Season: 17-20-2 (9-13-2 in HE, 8th); Lost to Northeastern in HE Quarterfinals

Losses: Austin Albrecht (F), Josh Couturier (D), Jake Horton (D), Griff Jeszka (F), Austin Plevy (F), Niko Rufo (F), Jack Suter (F), Eetu Torpstrom (D), Ryan Wischow (G),

Additions: Anthony Del Gaizo (F), Marc Del Gaizo (D), Ty Farmer (D), Colin Felix (D),  Bobby Kaiser (F), Fille Lindberg (G), Jacob Pritchard (F – Graduate Transfer), Bobby Trivigno (F), Kolby Vegara (D)

Projected Finish: 6th

by Matt MacCormack

It looks like there might be something brewing out in Amherst. The Minutemen haven’t posted a winning record in Hockey East in 11 years, but with a bevy of young talent returning from last year’s squad, it looks like that streak could come to an end in 2018-19.

Coach Greg Carvel’s second season at the helm went much better than his first, with the Minutemen posting a 12-win improvement from 2016-17 to 2017-18: one of the biggest turnarounds in Division 1 hockey. While the Minutemen weren’t a conference threat — they finished 8th in Hockey East and bowed out of the Hockey East Quarterfinals in two games to Northeastern — several young players, especially in a loaded sophomore class, got vital experience along the way that should pay dividends this season.

The Minutemen return four of their top five scorers, headlined by Amherst native John Leonard, a 6th round pick by the San Jose Sharks in the NHL Entry draft. The sharpshooting sophomore lefty had 13 goals and 15 assists in his freshman season, and is poised to pump those numbers up significantly. He’s joined up front by a terrific trio of sophomores — Mitchell Chaffee, Oliver Chau and Jake Gaudet. Those three combined to be UMass’ most prolific line last season, and there’s no reason to believe they won’t be even better in their second seasons of college hockey.

At the blue line, UMass will be led by another pair of sophomores in Cale Makar and Mario Ferrero, who were taken 4th and 49th overall, respectively, in the NHL Entry Draft.  Makar registered five goals and 16 assists, and Ferrero posted four scores and a team-leading 19 assists. Both players made the Hockey East All-Rookie team last year.

Sophomore goalie Matt Murray returns in between the pipes after he registered the lowest goals against average (2.70) by a UMass goaltender since 2008-09.

One area the Minutemen must improve in is the power play; UMass was dead last in the conference in power play conversion percentage last season.

Bottom Line: Long the butt of many Hockey East jokes, it seems the time has come for UMass to vault themselves into the conversation as a legitimate conference threat. The powerful sophomore class has a chance to be special, and a top-half finish certainly isn’t out of the question for the Minutemen. Improving the power play will go a long way in helping continue Carvel’s turnaround of the UMass program.

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