UMass hockey hopes to learn from last week’s mistakes

  • UMass head coach Greg Carvel, right, talks to his team during practice Dec. 4 at the Mullins Center Practice Rink. UMass plays Harvard in the semifinals of the Northeast Regional, Friday at 3 p.m. in Manchester, New Hampshire. JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Friday, March 29, 2019

AMHERST — In hindsight, Greg Carvel would have done things slightly differently last week.

UMass left for the Hockey East semifinals in Boston on Wednesday night with the thought of acclimating itself to the surroundings and getting an extra skate on the smaller ice surface. The Minutemen had their official practice at TD Garden on Thursday before heading to the conference awards banquet as part of an unusual week for the program.

The travel schedule potentially threw UMass out of its routine, and Carvel said he’s going to minimize the amount of time the team spends this coming weekend in Manchester, New Hampshire, for the NCAA Tournament’s Northeast Regional.

“We’re going to be as efficient as possible,” Carvel said. “We’re going in there at the last possible minute just before our practice (Thursday). We don’t have to play a second game and wait and see and hope and wonder, we know what time we’re playing (Friday). We’re going to spend as little time in Manchester as possible before the game.

“(UMass assistant coach) Ben Barr said when he was (coaching) at Providence, they struggled, too, when they went too early and in retrospect, I wish we didn’t go Wednesday night (for the Hockey East semis). I wish we skated here and then went to Boston on Thursday, practiced and then went right to the banquet.”

The whole ordeal was a very new experience for UMass, which hadn’t qualified for the Hockey East semifinals since 2007. And it is difficult to simulate that type of environment for players who haven’t experienced playing in those moments before. Carvel said the Minutemen’s slow start could be attributed to some extent on UMass adjusting to the bright lights of the bigger stage.

The positive, though, is that the Minutemen now have that experience and he is hopeful that will help his team be more relaxed when the puck drops at 3 p.m. Friday against Harvard.

“A lot of the kids admitted that they were out there with big eyes,” Carvel said. “I’ve coached in that building 50 times, so I was comfortable with it, but I forget the kids, it’s hard to put yourself into their shoes. I don’t imagine Manchester is going to be as overwhelming as that situation was last week. We’re hoping we’ve learned and we’ve got that behind us.”

UMass has faced many new challenges and went through some growing pains adjusting to those obstacles. The Minutemen were shellacked 4-0 by Quinnipiac in their first game as the No. 1 team in the country before rebounding the next night in a dominating 3-1 victory over the Bobcats.

Arguably the biggest roadblock though has been handling the immense success on the ice. UMass was atop the Hockey East standings the entire 2019 calendar year and opened up a sizable advantage midway through February. The Minutemen officially clinched the regular-season title with two games to spare, which didn’t keep the team as focused as they could have been.

“You have a really good year and the one downside to that is you don’t play desperate down the stretch,” Carvel said. “You want your team playing at a certain desperation level and we haven’t had to and it’s just because we put ourselves too far ahead of the pack with a couple of weeks to go. That was my biggest fear and some games we’re really good, but sometimes you’re not good.”

Last Friday was UMass’ first taste of true win-or-go-home playoff hockey, but it faced a team in Boston College playing with the desperation of its season on the line. The Minutemen took the TD Garden ice last week knowing it would play in the NCAA Tournament, but it was just a manner of where and which seed they would receive.

Now the season is on the line for UMass every single night for the rest of the season, and Carvel said he hopes the players will use that desperation to take their games to the next level.

“We’ve only had one game this year where that’s been the case and you hope you learn from it,” Carvel said. “This is a great group of kids. We’ve talked all year about appreciating playing together because one day it’s going to come to an end and let’s make sure it doesn’t come too soon. I think losing on Friday night, as disheartening as it was for all of us, ... it has to have a huge effect on us going into the next game.”