UMass Hockey heads to Northern Ireland to play in the Friendship Four after picking up a win against the Wildcats

The Minutemen did what they had to do in the Granite State, now they are in Belfast for some team bonding and more hockey.

The Minutemen were able to get back in the win column with a thrilling comeback against the New Hampshire Wildcats. This was the first win for UMass since the overtime win at home against the Merrimack College Warriors on October 28.

After going down 2-0 in the first period, the Minutemen came roaring back in the second. They scored three goals, took the lead and never looked back. Freshman forward Kenny Connors got his team on the board just under three minutes into the middle frame. Then junior Ryan Sullivan tied the game, and soon after, senior Reed Lebster took the lead for the Minutemen. In the third period, sophomore Ryan Lautenbach added some insurance to the lead, putting them up by two, and ultimately putting the finishing touches on the first win in five games for UMass. It should also be noted that Luke Pavicich had a huge game, stopping 35 of 37 UNH shots. The sophomore needed a solid showing in the paint and he stepped up and did just that for his team.

Friendship Four Fun

The men in maroon did what they needed to do last weekend, winning the must-win and shifting the tides back in their favor. The question is, can the Minutemen keep up this momentum? As they go overseas to Belfast, Northern Ireland, if they hope to win the coveted Belpot Trophy of the Friendship Four tournament and bring the gold back to Amherst, No. 17 ranked UMass will need to step up their game. Two very good teams will likely stand in front of the Minutemen’s path to the Belpot Trophy: the No. 14 ranked 8-5-0 UMass Lowell River Hawks and the No. 4 ranked 9-1-2 Quinnipiac Bobcats.

The unranked 1-4-1 Dartmouth Big Green will also be there, going up against powerhouse Quinnipiac in their first game on Friday. They have a slim chance of winning and the only way that the Minutemen will see them is if they beat the Bobcats in their first game. UMass will face off against the River Hawks to start off the mini tournament then face the winner in the championship game for the Belpot Trophy.

The Minutemen will need to channel some of that early season magic that they had back in September and early October if they want to be the ones that bring this trophy back to Massachusetts. UMass Lowell can be beaten, but it will take some extra firepower to beat Quinnipiac. Regardless, the first task at hand is beating the River Hawks. This should be a goalie battle for the ages. Obviously, Pavicich has shown flashes of greatness, but UMass Lowell goaltender Henry Welsch has been consistently good between the pipes; the junior has posted a 1.76 GAA and a .935 SV% through nine games. As for Pavicich, his numbers improved last Friday, now posting a 2.57 GAA and a .923 SV% also through nine games.

On the offensive side, the River Hawks leading scorer is senior forward Carl Berglund. He currently has eleven points to his name through thirteen games. Let it be known that good things happen on the ice for UMass Lowell when senior forward Zach Kaiser is on the ice; the Canadian’s plus/minus currently sits at a high +8. He has also posted eight points on the year, keep an eye on him this afternoon. Connors and Lebster contribute to carry this Minutemen offense with both of them tied at thirteen points through twelve games, the leading scorers for the men in maroon.

Belfast Bonding

With similar numbers going up for both teams, Friday’s game should be a fun one from SSE Arena in Belfast. Speaking of Belfast, UMass players and coaches arrived there earlier this week, but not before stopping in Dublin, Ireland. They got to have some fun on what could be for some people a once in a lifetime trip. The first stop was to the iconic Guinness Beer factory, then into a pub where third string goalie Henry Graham danced to Irish jig music with some friends. 

Another day in Ireland showed the Minutemen coaching staff heading to the the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, where they met with United States Ambassador to Ireland Claire Cronin. Before hitting the ice and getting some practice in, UMass hockey then drove north to Northern Ireland to visit the Belfast Peace Wall with players getting to sign a portion of the wall.

Finally, the team also got the opportunity to celebrate Thanksgiving together, spending the day doing some more traveling, visiting a beautiful portion of land on the coast of Belfast. The players were also given the opportunity to blog this entire trip as they pleased. UMass Hockey took to twitter and posted a three minute clip of highlights from their recordings.

This awesome trip across the world is certainly a great opportunity for the players and coaches to bond with one another. Not only making stops along the way, but spending the holiday of Thanksgiving together makes this group of skilled players join together like family with their coaches. Hopefully, this will lead to some better results on the ice. Be sure to catch the Minutemen on the ice this Friday and Saturday on NESN.

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