As it navigated its way through the 2020-21 season in the middle of the pandemic, the UMass men’s hockey team showed a willingness to play any time, anywhere, seemingly hanging a shingle at the Mullins Center that read “Open for Business.”
The Minutemen rode that approach all the way to Pittsburgh, where they captured the national championship, and it appears they’re taking the same mentality for 2021-22, and that’s where we’ll begin our look at the top story lines for the upcoming season.
▪ Can UMass repeat? The prognosticators seem to think so, with the Minutemen being ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls. There will be no easing into the schedule, as UMass will begin its title defense by hosting No. 5 Minnesota State for a pair of games beginning Saturday at 7 p.m. A sellout crowd of 8,500 will be on hand as the Minutemen raise the national championship banner.
There also will be a road trip to Ann Arbor for a pair of games at No. 2 Michigan Jan. 8-9.
The Minutemen lost 10 players from last year’s team, with three underclassmen signing pro contracts, including goalie Filip Lindberg. Fortunately, Matt Murray will be back for a fifth year and may have the net to himself after splitting duties with Lindberg for the last three seasons.
Coach Greg Carvel will lean on seniors Bobby Trivigno and Colin Felix to lead the way.
“I sleep easier at night knowing that these kids are on our team,” said Carvel. “They’re outstanding, high-character kids. They’re great leaders, and they’ve won a lot of hockey games here.”
▪ The Crimson are back: Perhaps no team was impacted more by the pandemic than Harvard, which along with the rest of the Ivy League schools did not compete last season. In the spring of 2020, the Crimson boasted a roster that seemed sure to reach the NCAA tournament, and possibly even the Frozen Four.
But as the summer rolled around, the chances for a 2020-21 season became less and less likely, and some players left the program, either to turn pro or transfer to another school.
There’s still plenty of talent coming back this season for Ted Donato’s squad, which was picked to finish third in the ECAC in the preseason poll. Senior forward Casey Dornbach, and junior forward Nick Abruzzese will serve as captains.
Junior defenseman Henry Thrun, who helped lead the US team to the gold medal at the World Junior Championship, is also back, while incoming freshman Matthew Coronato was selected 13th by the Calgary Flames in last summer’s draft.
▪ Eagles reloading: Boston College lost nine players, including sophomore forwards Matt Boldy, Alex Newhook, and Mike Hardman, as well as goalie Spencer Knight. The Eagles are bringing in 10 new players — four graduate transfers and six freshmen.
Finding a replacement for Knight will be at the top of the to-do list, with sophomore Henry Wilder and graduate transfer Eric Dop (who came over from Bowling Green) locked in a battle for the top spot. Wilder, a Needham native, made three starts last season, posting a .920 goals against average, while Dop had a .923 save percentage and 2.16 GAA for the Falcons.
Whoever gets the nod will have a veteran defensive group playing in front of him, led by juniors Drew Helleson and Marshall Warren.
▪ Healthy returns for Terriers?: Boston University returns much of its leadership group, with senior Logan Cockerill serving as captain for the second straight year. Senior Ty Amonte and Max Kaufman are back as assistant captains for a second year, while junior Alex Vlasic also will be an assistant captain.
Junior Matt Brown comes over from UMass Lowell and should provide some offense.
A return to health for Amonte would go a long way. After redshirting as a junior in 2019-20, Amonte appeared in just two games last season. Coach Albie O’Connell reports that Amonte is healthy entering the season.
Sophomore Drew Commesso will get the call in net and leads a deep group, with Ashton Abel and Vinny Duplessis also seeing action last season.
▪ Familiar faces in new roles: Two Hockey East schools will have new head coaches.
After serving as an assistant at Northeastern for 10 years, Jerry Keefe was elevated to head coach when Jim Madigan resigned to become the school’s athletic director. He takes over a program that he helped build, led by captain Jordan Harris. Injuries limited goalie Devon Levi and forward Sam Colangelo after they returned from World Juniors last season, with Levi not suiting up for the Huskies once; both are reportedly healthy now.
Ben Barr spent six seasons helping Carvel build UMass into a national champion. Now he heads north, having been named head coach for Maine after Red Gendron died unexpectedly last summer. The Black Bears won only three games last season, and Barr would appear to have his work cut out for him.
News and notes
▪ UMass Lowell had an impressive run in the Hockey East tournament last year, knocking off BU and BC en route to the championship game, where it lost to UMass, but it saw a few players exit via the transfer portal, including Brown joining the Terriers. The River Hawks brought in a few transfers of their own, including Colgate defenseman Nick Austin … Providence coach Nate Leaman took the prize for the most interesting Zoom background, participating in Hockey East media day from his boat after removing a seagull with a broken wing. The Friars return plenty of talent from last year’s squad, which just missed being selected for the NCAA tournament … Merrimack finished last season strong, but was unable to compete in the conference playoffs after several positive COVID cases in the program. The Warriors return eight of their top 10 scorers.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.