By: Freeman Alfano
As we enter the final stretch of the regular season, the Minutemen have built off their early season dominance well. Over the past two months, UMass has a 7-4 record, and currently sits as the second-ranked team in Division I. With the final stretch of the regular season closing in, let’s look at how they got here and check what’s in store for the rest of the year.
December and January featured a few resume-building wins for the Minutemen. They split their season series against Northeastern and Quinnipiac, who were both eighth-ranked teams at the time of their matchups, and secured a dominant 5-2 win over 18th-ranked Yale in mid-December. They did lose some winnable games over this stretch, as well, falling to unranked Maine due to a costly penalty, along with their Massachusetts counterpart UMass Lowell.
Team and Individual Performances
Despite not quite maintaining the unbelievable success they displayed at the beginning of the year, UMass still has arguably been the best team in the country with the nation’s best player. The Minutemen have the second-highest scoring offense in Division I this season, averaging 3.79 goals per game, and are letting up the fifth-fewest goals per game with 1.96. This success has carried over to special teams, as well, where they feature Division I’s second-most efficient power play (31.2%) and the 11th-best penalty kill (85.9%).
A Minuteman could end up taking the Hobey Baker award for the best player in college hockey, too. Defensemen Cale Makar, who was one of 80+ nominees for the award, is tied for the fourth-highest plus-minus in Division I this season with an outstanding plus-19 mark. Makar has been a huge part of the Minutemen’s high-scoring offense, as he currently has 29 points and 20 assists on the season, which are good for eighth and fifth in Division I, respectively.
Caroline O’Connor, UMass Athletics
Starting goaltender Matt Murray has stood on his head all season long. Known as “sexy goalie” by avid UMass hockey fans, Murray has the fifth-highest save percentage in Division I this season at 93%. As the last line of defense, Murray has done a phenomenal job of keeping the puck out of the net, as he is only letting in an average of 1.8 goals per game, the fifth-highest mark in Division I.
Thom Kendall, UMass Athletics
Aside from Makar and Murray, UMass has had some really impressive stars show out this year. Forwards Mitchell Chaffee and Jacob Pritchard have led the way on offense, as the two talented scorers have the third and fifth-most points in Division I this season. The insane scoring output by these two has been part of a superb “big four” for UMass; Pritchard, Chaffee, Makar, and sophomore forward John Leonard have combined for an incredible 113 points this season. Freshman defenseman Marc del Gaizo has been an incredible two-way player this season as well, as he’s currently tied for the highest plus-minus (+21) in Division I this season.
Coming up next for the Minutemen is a two-game stand against Boston University, who is exactly .500 on the season. After that comes a game against 17th-ranked UMass Lowell, who the Minutemen lost to earlier this year, along with a matchup towards the end of the season versus ninth-ranked Providence. While the Minutemen are undefeated against them this season, they should pose a tough matchup as a highly-ranked team who has competed well with UMass so far.
Up to this point, the Minutemen have had an extremely strong season thus far, and are showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Coach Carvel has this experienced team gearing up for a playoff run and, with plenty of wins against ranked teams already, they should be more than prepared for any opponent that stands in their way. With about a month in the regular season to go, look for UMass to continue their winning ways and establish themselves as a strong Frozen Four candidate. Go UMass!