Boston has long been a hotbed of college hockey. Hockey East has brought home the NCAA title in four of the last five seasons and many of the local Division 1 programs have been top contenders throughout this season.
But one of the best stories in the sport this season has been over at UMass-Boston.
The Division 3 Beacons are 16-3-2 and in second place in ECAC East (9-3-2), behind the nation’s No. 1 team, Norwich (18-2-0, 13-1-0).
What makes it all the more remarkable is that there are 13 freshmen on the Beacons’ roster. One of them, forward Peter MacIntyre of Norfolk, is the third leading scorer on the team with 16 goals and 27 points in 21 games.
Seventh-year coach Peter Belisle said MacIntyre has been a revelation.
“He’s been outstanding,” said Belisle. “We’ve never had an impact freshman like him in my tenure. He’s had three Rookie of the Week [honors] and he was just named Player of the Week for the whole league.
“He’s 6-foot-5-inches and he can play all types of game. He can play physical, he can really shoot it. He’s got incredible hands for a big man and pretty good feet for a big man as well. He’s a big reason for our success.’’
Belisle said his squad has come together quicker than he expected.
“We’re young up front and we’re young in the net,’’ said Belisle. “We’ve been having a good season. We have three veteran defensemen and I think that has really helped us. Like I’ve been telling the guys all along, you really can’t look at the standings until after Valentine’s Day. That’s when it really counts, but we’re proud of what we’ve accomplished.’’
UMass-Boston is ranked No. 11 in the country in the USCHO.com Division 3 poll, but Belisle said no one on the team is taking anything for granted.
“It could be all for naught,’’ he said. “All the ground we’ve gained we could lose very quickly.’’
Although freshman goaltender Zach Andrews doesn’t have the greatest numbers (3.12 goals-against average, .892 save percentage), he has a 14-3-2 record.
“He’s very hard on himself and he’s worried about his numbers,’’ said Belisle. “I keep telling him, ‘As long as you’re outcompeting the guy at the other end, and that’s what you’ve been doing, you’ve got to continue to do that.’ His numbers have improved since the beginning of the year.
“We’re a different type team than I’ve had in the past. We’re a bit more offensive. So when you’re making those offensive rushes, you’re going to give up some, too. A lot of our games have been high-scoring games.’’
One of the areas where the Beacons are very strong is in the faceoff circle. Seven players are .500 or above on draws.
“Our best faceoff guy is probably not the guy who ends up on the scoring sheet the most — Mark Grinhaus — he’s probably one of our better penalty killers,’’ said Belisle. “He’s been outstanding on all our crucial defensive-zone draws when you’ve got to get the puck out.’’
One of the top power-play performers is senior forward Mike DeGrazia, who has six goals on the man advantage.
“He plays kind of the half-wall on the power play, but we have a lot of movement on our power play,’’ said Belisle.
The team’s leading scorer is junior forward Travis Daniel with 32 points (10-22—32) in 21 games. Four of his goals have been game-winners.
“He has been, hands down, our best forward up front,’’ said Belisle. “He brings that consistent hard work. He can play it anyway you want it. He may only be 5 foot 6 inches, but he’s one of the strongest guys on the puck. He has great speed, good vision, and he just competes every night. I think that’s why he is having the season he is having.
“If he continues, he could be the first All-American that we’ve had in a long time.’’
Belisle said the freshmen have matured quickly and have made a clear difference. Seven freshmen forwards play every game.
“When we brought in all these freshmen, I was a little nervous as to how they were going to adjust and respond,’’ he said. “I knew it was one of the most talented groups we have brought in. So, am I surprised? A little bit. Did I expect it? Not as good as this. This has been a pleasant surprise.’’Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.