Hockey East Preview: UMass Amherst Minutemen

Last season: 31–10–0 (18–6–0 HE, first place); lost in HE semifinals to BC, lost NCAA National Championship to Minnesota Duluth

Head Coach: Greg Carvel (fourth season)

Coaches’ Poll Projected Finish: Second

Losses

  • D Cale Makar
  • D Ryan Bliss
  • D Mario Ferraro
  • F Jacob Pritchard
  • F Brett Boeing
  • F Kurt Keats

Additions

  • G Alex Camarre
  • D Gianfranco Cassaro
  • D Zac Jones
  • D Jaakko Haarti
  • F Jeremy Davidson
  • F Eric Faith
  • F Calen Kiefiuk
  • F Reed Lebster
  • F Peyton Reeves

By Jonathan Golbert

On April 12th, 2019, Cale Makar stepped onto the stage at Harborcenter in Buffalo to accept the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top NCAA men’s hockey player. On April 13th, he stepped on the ice to lead the charge for the Minutemen in the national championship against Minnesota Duluth. And on April 14th, he stepped on to a flight bound for Game 3 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs after signing an entry-level Contract with the Colorado Avalanche. The player who took UMass hockey from the conference basement to the national championship in just two years was gone.

Though Makar’s departure from Amherst was expected, it still leaves a gaping hole in UMass’s defense. His accolades seem endless: fourth pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, Hobey Baker Winner, Hockey East Player of the Year, First Team All-American. But most importantly, he was a leader on and off the ice for a young, talented Massachusetts team.

The Minutemen have other departures to contend with, too. Sophomore defenseman Mario Ferraro left school early to sign with the San Jose Sharks, and seniors Jacob Pritchard, Brett Boeing, and Kurt Keats also leave holes in the Minutemen’s lines. Pritchard’s contributions will be sorely missed; he notched an exceptional 47 points last season, second only to Makar’s mind-boggling 49.

Head Coach Greg Carvel brings a nine-player freshman class to boost his roster, including New York Rangers’ third round Pick Zac Jones. Jones is the star of this recruiting class: an offensive defenseman who moves the puck well and fits perfectly into the UMass blue line. He will be joined by a crop of USHL talent, plus goalie Alex Camarre and defensemen Jaakko Haarti and Gianfranco Cassaro. Jones and forwards Reed Lebster and Peyton Reeves have the best chances of starting on opening night for the Minutemen.

Junior forwards Mitchell Chafee and John Leonard have demonstrated an eye for goal and excellent passing vision, and will be expected to step up their point production. Long Island native Bobby Trivigno also looks to make his mark after a successful 28-point rookie season. After a three-point performance against UNH in Game 1 of the Hockey East Playoffs, Trivigno received high praise from Carvel, who said, “He’s probably our most important player… He’s the best forward on our team. He’s outstanding.”

Sophomore Marc Del Gaizo played on the top pair with Cale Makar last season and is expected to contribute from the blue line again this year. He is a powerful skater with an excellent shot, comfortable with the puck in both zones. With man-advantage mainstays Makar and Ferraro on to the NHL, Del Gaizo will often be directing the Minutemen power play squad from the point.

One of the more interesting storylines for Amherst will be identifying their top netminder. Both Matt Murray and Filip Lindberg are solid; Murray started the season as Carvel’s number one, but Lindberg took over the starting role come playoff time and was absolutely lights out. Lindberg posted a staggering 1.60 GAA and .934 SV% over 17 games for the Minutemen last year, but without two of his best defenders, he’ll have his work cut out for him.

Bottom Line: The loss of Makar is a crushing blow, but most of last year’s offensive core is returning for the 2019–20 season. With Del Gaizo set to step up and lead from the blue line and reinforcements coming in Zac Jones and others, they’ve hedged their bets to try to reload the defense. UMass will remain an offensive powerhouse, but with the departures of Makar and Ferraro, a weakened defense, and an underwhelming recruiting class, they might fall just short of the Hockey East regular season crown.

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