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A banner night for UMass hockey

  • The 2021 national championship banner is raised during a ceremony preceding the UMass hockey’s season opener against Minnesota State on Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • The 2021 national championship trophy is seen at the UMass hockey’s season opener on Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • The 2021 national championship banner is raised during a ceremony preceding the UMass hockey’s season opener against Minnesota State on Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • UMass players line up for the national championship banner raising ceremony prior to the season opener against Minnesota State on Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • UMass players line up for the national championship banner raising ceremony prior to the season opener against Minnesota State on Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • UMass players line up for the national championship banner raising ceremony prior to the season opener against Minnesota State on Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • UMass players Taylor Makar (18) and Slava Demin (17) line up for the national championship banner raising ceremony prior to the season opener against Minnesota State on Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • The UMass hockey team makes their way onto the ice for the season opener against Minnesota State on Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • UMass defender Slava Demin greets young fans as he comes off the ice before the season opener against Minnesota State on Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • UMass hockey fans wait outside Mullins Center prior to the season opener against Minnesota State on Saturday in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • UMass hockey fans wait outside Mullins Center prior to the season opener against Minnesota State on Saturday in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE

  • The 2021 national championship trophy at the UMass hockey’s season opener against Minnesota State on Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. FOR THE GAZETTE/DAN LITTLE



Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2021

AMHERST — The line to enter the Mullins Center began forming around 9 p.m. on Oct. 1. There were still 21 hours until the doors opened. The defending national champion UMass hockey team didn’t drop the puck against No. 5 Minnesota State until 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The Minutemen weren’t planning to raise their championship banner until 7:15 p.m.

None of that mattered to UMass junior Quinn McCarron. The Worcester native who wears a reindeer costume at UMass home games was determined to be the first one in the Mullins Center for the season opener. He wanted to be on the glass when the Minutemen’s first banner went into the rafters — a banner he saw them win at the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh six months ago.

So McCarron and four friends started planning three weeks ago at UMass’ home football opener against Boston College. At first they thought they could get to Mullins a few hours early and stake out a good spot.

“(McCarron) thought we were crazy (for wanting to go that early),” said Ben MacKinnon, a Billerica native. “But as it got closer to the game and that hype was building up for the return of the student section, we were hearing people were going at noon, four, five in the morning. We had to be there a full night ahead.”

The group grabbed a late dinner at a dining hall then set up camp. The UMass outing club, a student organization that promotes outdoor activity, provided three tents that they pitched and slept in over the sidewalk. To pass the time, they played cards, corn hole and threw around a football.

“It was a great time,” McCarron said.

More students showed up in the morning. Some brought snacks. As the crowd grew, UMass coach Greg Carvel even stopped by to recognize the effort and deliver pizza.

“I just feel like that’s what it should be on a college campus. You want the student support, and the more visible you are the more you can connect with them, I enjoy it, I really do,” Carvel said. “Whatever someone wants to give to me, I’ll give back.”

The wait was worth it for McCarron and MacKinnon, who were the first through the Mullins Center doors and subsequent security, running down the steps to the bottom of the student section and setting up on the glass. That side of the arena filled quickly, as students were allowed into the game for free but on a first-come, first-served basis.

“It’s been two years since I’ve been here,” McCarron said. “We’ll have a great time, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

UMass fans enthusiastically greeted the team when they took the ice for warm ups, and they booed Minnesota State with just as much gusto.

When the house lights darkened, pinpricks emerged from phone screens to capture history. UMass played a highlight video from the championship run, and the fans cheered each moment that they didn’t get to in person last spring: finally winning a Hockey East tournament title, Carvel sprinting across the ice from a postgame TV interview to the huddle, the overtime victory over Minnesota Duluth and each goal bludgeoning St. Cloud State in the national championship game.

Better belated than never.

“It was awesome. It was one of the highlights, maybe the highlight of my hockey career,” Carvel said. “It was emotional. That’s pretty significant. When you’ve been in it as long as I have, it was right up there as a high point for me.”

Shelburne Falls’ Justin Moffatt bought season tickets for the first time since the ’90s. He and his three kids watched the game from the glass opposite the student section. They had tickets a year and a half ago for the first Mullins Center COVID-19 pandemic casualty: the 2020 Hockey East quarterfinals against Northeastern.

“Last year was tough,” Moffatt said. “The kids are excited just to be able to come back and watch hockey.”

They and several thousand of their new friends. UMass announced a capacity crowd of 8,412, but there were pockets of empty seats even after the puck dropped. None of them got what they came to see. The Minutemen lost 2-0, their first defeat in 14 games dating back to Jan. 18 at Boston University.

The fans relished returning to the Mullins Center after a year and a half despite the score. Every time a Minnesota State player was introduced, the crowd yelled “sucks” after. They chanted “ugly goalie” at Minnesota State netminder Dryden McKay and “sexy goalie” to UMass fifth-year keeper Matt Murray. Each time there was a minute left in the period, public address announcer Matt Goldstein informed the crowd. The student section responded, “thank you,” per tradition.

“So glad to have you back,” Goldstein said after the first call and response in the first period.

“The crowd was there, brought good energy. I just don’t think we made the Mullins fans proud at all,” UMass senior captain Bobby Trivigno said. “I don’t think we made ourselves proud at all.”

Roxbury’s Solomon Siskind, a UMass grad student that previously played football, watched from what some would think was the worst seat in the house: all the way at the back, tucked in a corner and on the side UMass only shot at once. It’s exactly where he wanted to be.

“I like it up here. Better view,” Siskind said. “Pretty crazy. I saw what the first year was like for the program, and to finally be back here and hear all the lineups be introduced, it was awesome.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.