This is the first of 10 previews on each of the Hockey East schools, done in reverse order of where the men’s team finished last year. Women’s teams will be previewed alongside their men’s team where applicable. We’re starting with UMass, who do not operate a varsity women’s side.
University of Massachusetts Amherst Minutemen Men’s Ice Hockey
Arena: Mullins Center (8,387)
Head Coach: Greg Carvel (2nd season)
2016/17 Record: 5-29-2 (2-19-1 Hockey East)
Hockey East Standings: 12th
Hockey East Playoffs: Defeated in Octofinals, 0-2, Providence
NCAA Tournament: DNQ
Key Newcomers: G Matt Murray, D Cale Makar, D Mario Ferraro, F Oliver Chau
Key Losses: D William Lagesson, F Steven Iacobellis, F Ray Pigozzi
To say the Minutemen’s first season under Greg Carvel wasn’t very good is an understatement, as they finished as Hockey East Wooden Spooners for the third straight season. They had the third-worst Pairwise in the entire country last season, finishing only ahead of Brown and Niagara. They didn’t win a single game after the new year. They were shut out at home by AIC. But, digging deeper, that was partially terrible luck. The Minutemen had the joint-worst shooting percentage in the country at just 7.3% and the ninth-worst save percentage at .888. Their power play was anemic, and their PK was average. Of course, that’s not to say the Minutemen were any good – they had the fourth-worst Corsi For% in Hockey East last year and on average were outshot 33-25 – but it does shed light on how a team with a decent coach could be so, so bad.
This year, the expectations have been raised in Western Massachusetts with a very strong recruiting class, a class they have such high hopes for that they cut a slew of underclassmen after last season (in addition to losing Lagesson to the NHL).
Let’s start in goal. Last year Ryan Wischow was subpar, posting a .897 save percentage, and backups Nic Renyard and Alex Wakaluk were even worse. Wakaluk has graduated, and Renyard was cut and moved to Lakehead University in Canada. Replacing them are freshmen Matt Murray and Brad Arvanitis. Murray has been terrific in the past, leading the Spruce Grove Saints to the 2015 AJHL title before being named the league’s best goalie in 2015-16. Last season, his .910 SV% with the USHL’s Fargo Force was decent, but nothing particularly special. He did play in 52 games, showing that he can handle a starter’s workload. I think he’ll battle the incumbent Wischow for the starting job. Arvanitis was solid in the NAHL with Coulee Region, but only got into 22 games, so the sample size is kind of limited.
The UMass blueline will likely be their strength this year. Lottery pick (and former UVM target) Cale Makar, who was basically the best player at every competition he played in last year save for the World Juniors, has a hyperloop-speed hype train going right now. Though the team does lose William Lagesson, they do also pick up another top-50 pick in Mario Ferraro, who had a terrific season in the USHL last year (41 points and spots on the All-Rookie and First All-Star Team). Another intriguing add is Eetu Torpström, who captained KalPa Kuopio’s U20 side last season and was named to the Finnish junior league’s Second All-Star Team. Josh Couturier, a BC transfer, gains eligibility this year after sitting out the required season for an undergrad transfer, while the Minutemen see the returns of Ivan Chukarov and Shane Bear, who will probably not mind a lesser role because of the extra W’s these new players bring.
The real question in Amherst is who will bring the goal scoring? The top two scorers from last season have both graduated, and the top returning scorer is Austin Plevy, who only posted 15 points after transferring from Merrimack. The team does have offensive talent coming in, though. AJHL Rookie of the Year Oliver Chau (87 points) heads the group, along with George Mika, who posted a nice 69 points for NAHL Amarillo last season. They also have Jake Gaudet, who was a point-per-game player with Kemptville in the CCHL (albeit in only 31 games), Philip Lagunov (61 points for OJHL side Burlington Cougars), and Marco Bozzo (43 points for Newmarket in the OJHL) who look like they have some promise. Providence grand transfer Niko Rufo, Fargo Force forward Mitchell Chaffee, and former high school standout John Leonard round out the newcomers.
Out-Of-Conference Schedule: @Arizona State (2), @Union (2), AIC, Ohio State (2), @Yale
Overall Analysis: This class has some promise…but I don’t think this is the year UMass starts to do serious damage with them. I think that 2018-19 will most likely be their big year…and that’s if Makar sticks around. They’ll be better…but they’re still not great, especially with so many question marks on offense. Still a bottom half team in Hockey East for now, but with the potential to do damage in the future.