Amherst Wire

Hockey arrives back at Mullins

(Robert Rigo/Amherst Wire)

(Robert Rigo/Amherst Wire)


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By Matt Gingras

Friday October 10 kicked off the beginning of the 2014/15 season for the Massachusetts Minutemen. Despite a considerable number of students heading out because of Columbus Day weekend, 4,288 fans piled into the Mullins Center for what they hoped to be a promising season.

“I’m so excited that it’s hockey season,” said Brian Lochner, a UMass transfer student. “My last school didn’t have hockey, so I’m excited to see what it’s like in person.”

UMass is younger than they’ve been in years past. They’re bringing nine freshman aboard, including Dennis Kravchenko and Maddison Smiley.

The Minutemen have had no friends in the pre-season. Of the 12 teams in the Hockey East, UMass was picked to finish 11th. The only other team predicted to finish behind them? First year Hockey East opponent Connecticut.

Still, the upcoming year isn’t without it’s excitement. There was buzz around the campus the week leading up to the game, with Sam the Minutemen walking around distributing maroon wristbands with “UMASS MINUTEMEN” embedded in them. The return of hockey isn’t just the return of another sport, but it welcomes the fall season.

As fans piled into the Mullins Center, there was a certain atmosphere that can’t be captured in many other places. The anticipation before the puck dropped was almost electric.

During announcement’s for the Boston University — UMass’s opponents for their opener — the crowd jeered as one. When the Minutemen skated to the blue line upon being announced, there was cheering, real excitement from the student section.

“I had such a good time,” said Emily Jutras, a UMass junior. “It was really cool to be a part of that crowd in the beginning.”

The beginning of the game kept much of that atmosphere. The gasps after each hit or each Steve Mastalerz save showed how into the game the crowd was.

The only problem for UMass was Jack Eichel, the next face of American hockey. The Terriers recruited him to play hockey for the upcoming season, and many have predicted him to head to the NHL in June when the 2015 Draft takes place.

Eichel was held scoreless for the first two periods. 1:54 into the third, though, he lit the lamp for his first goal of the year. Less than five minutes later he scored another goal. Maybe more impressively is that in between the goals, he found time to complete his first career assist, serving a helper to Danny O’Regan.

“Jack’s a special player, we all know that,” Boston University coach David Quinn said in the postgame press conference. “He did some special things tonight.”

At the flip of a switch, BU went from containing UMass to dominating them. When the final horn sounded, the score was 8-1 in favor of the Terriers.

“It just turned ugly” said Jutras. “It looked like we kind of gave up.”

UMass isn’t home for another month — until Nov. 7. In that time they play four conference games, one against third-ranked Boston College, one against Northeastern and two against Maine. But just because they were picked to finish next to last doesn’t mean the Minutemen are going to listen.

Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna said at Hockey East Media Day, “What’s always exciting about these polls is they very rarely match up to what the final standings are.”

Sure, UMass hockey didn’t have the best start to their season. But when they take on AIC at home on Nov. 7, the BU game will be the last thing on their mind. The Minutemen will control their destiny in the new season, they won’t let a poll do it for them.

Matt Gingras can be reached at [email protected]

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Hockey arrives back at Mullins