Op-Ed: The Minutemen came up just short in the hunt for the Belpot Trophy, but earned a huge Hockey East win over the weekend

UMass Hockey is back on track after earning their third in conference win this season beating UMass Lowell who they will play again this Saturday.

The week of Thanksgiving was a busy but successful week of touring and hockey for the men in maroon. The men on the ice gave it their all, but ultimately fell just short of winning the Belpot Trophy, losing to the Quinnipiac Bobcats 3-2 in a shootout. While that was disappointing, there are still plenty of positives to unpack about this weekend of hockey in Northern Ireland.

To start, the Minutemen were able to beat the UMass Lowell River Hawks 2-1. Hockey East Rookie of the Week Kenny Connors continued his hot streak, adding another two goals to his resume on Friday, the only goals that the flagship hockey team was able to put in the back of the net. On the opposite end of the ice, Hockey East Goaltender of the Week Luke Pavicich stopped 32 of 33 River Hawks shots. Another stellar performance from the Minutemen goalie was followed by, yes, one more stellar performance on Saturday.

Against the Bobcats, Pavicich faced another 33 shots. He stopped 31. The Bobcats were clearly the better opponent, but that did not faze the UMass sophomore goalie. In the same game, Connors picked up an assist, collecting three points in total over the weekend. Two magnificent games in Belfast for two magnificent players.

The game for the Belpot Trophy came down to the wire. Quinnipiac was certainly no easy opponent for the Minutemen. While it was a close one, the men in maroon were never able to take the lead at any point. The Bobcats took an early lead in the first period when forward Ethan de Jong scored. This was the only goal of the game until the third when forward Taylor Makar tied the game off of a breakaway.

Later in the period, Quinnipiac took back the lead with a goal by Skyler Brind’Amour, son of NHL Stanley Cup Champion and Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour. This did not discourage the Minutemen because no more than thirty seconds later with just under four minutes to go in the game, forward Micheal Cameron scored off of a rebound that was shot by the soon-to-be Carolina Hurricane Scott Morrow. It was a great play by Morrow to get into position to shoot that puck, and it once again ended up tying the game.

Sixty minutes was not enough to decide the winner of the Belpot Trophy, and neither was overtime. The Friendship Four was decided in a shootout; one that ended with the  Quinnipiac Bobcats taking home the trophy, winning 1-0. As for the standings, the shootout loss to Quinnipiac will go down as a tie per NCAA Hockey rules. The Minutemen fought until the very end against the now ranked No. 2 Quinnipiac Bobcats. This UMass Hockey team that has struggled recently, just came very close to beating the second best team in the country, certainly a step in the right direction.

Getting a win and a tie against two higher ranked teams wasn’t the only highlight of the trip to Europe. After practice on Tuesday, a couple of Minutemen players were interviewed and asked about their experience overseas.

“It was a lot of fun, it was kind of like a vacation,” said Pavicich. “We were always out and about,”

“It was a blast… I enjoyed every minute,” said defenseman Aaron Bohlinger. I also asked Bohlinger if he found any particular Irish dish memorable.

“I’d have to say steak and potatoes… We were pretty lucky, they took us into some really nice restaurants… We had a blast [being] all there together, nothing beats it,” said Bohlinger.

As for the players’ favorite part of the trip, it was a general consensus among Pavicich, Bohlinger, and Makar that the Giant’s Causeway was one of the best, if not the outright best stop that the Minutemen had on their wonderful trip.

Now, putting that behind them, the Minutemen stare down a familiar foe once again: the UMass Lowell River Hawks. They know that they can beat this team, it is just a matter of the change in atmosphere, and getting back into the swing of things at home here in Amherst. 

“I think it’s gonna be a good test Saturday,” said Luke Pavicich, “They’re definitely gonna have a little chip on their shoulder after losing that first game and not being able to go to the championship.” Pavicich’s numbers improved once again after this past weekend overseas, now posting a 2.34 GAA and a .929 SV%. The River Hawks unexpectedly started graduate student Gustavs Davis Grigals of Latvia, who still has less playing time than junior Henry Welsch, the anticipated starter a week ago in Belfast. 

Regardless, Grigals only let in two goals against the Flagship and he is now posting a 1.78 GAA and a .932 SV% through seven games played. Expect him to start on Saturday as Welsch started last Saturday against Dartmouth and was pulled after only 20 minutes because he gave up three goals to the unranked Big Green. On the other side of the puck, the points leaders remain the same for both teams: Kenny Connors for the Minutemen with 16, and Carl Berglund for the River Hawks with 12.

Be sure to head over to the Mullins Center this Saturday for yet another Hockey East battle between the Minutemen and the River Hawks. Whiteout is the theme, the first 2,000 fans will get a free “Chill The Bill” T-shirt. With the Minutemen chasing most of the conference with a lackluster 3-5 Hockey East record, this is yet another very important game for UMass Hockey that they’ll want to win.

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