The college hockey world was abuzz when three of the top four selections in last summer’s NHL Draft were from the University of Michigan. Just a few weeks later all three revealed they would be returning for their sophomore season at Ann Arbor, giving the team a total of six first-round picks, and 11 overall, on the team.
With the group including Hingham’s Matty Beniers (second overall by the Seattle Kraken in 2021) and junior Johnny Beecher (the Bruins’ first-round pick in 2019), there were plenty of local fans scurrying to look at Michigan’s schedule to see if the Wolverines were coming to town. Alas, there are no planned dates in these parts, although a trip to TD Garden for the Frozen Four in April could be in the cards.
All of which makes UMass’s trip this weekend for a two-game series at Michigan all the more intriguing, no matter how much Minutemen coach Greg Carvel tries to down play it.
“It doesn’t matter how many draft picks a team has. We’re focused on what we have to do,” said Carvel. “They’re just another hockey team, and we’re just another hockey team. We’re going to prepare and we’ve got to be at our best. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing.”
Both teams are ranked in the top 10, with Michigan entering the weekend at No. 6 with a 14-6-1 record. UMass is 9-4-2 and ranked 10th.
As recently as the beginning of last week, it looked like Michigan would be shorthanded for the series, with five players, including Beniers, competing in the World Junior championships that were scheduled to run through Wednesday. The number could have been six, but sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau tested positive at the end of camp and was not allowed to continue with the team. UMass defenseman Scott Morrow was skating for Team USA. The World Juniors were canceled though because of a COVID-19 outbreak, and the players were allowed to return to their teams.
Michigan defenseman Owen Power, the No. 1 overall pick in 2021 by the Buffalo Sabres, was skating for Canada at the tournament. He has since committed to play in the Olympics for Canada, while Team USA is hoping to get Beniers to come aboard.
UMass had been shorthanded before the break, but forwards Cal Kiefiuk, Josh Lopina, and Garrett Wait are all back in action after missing time with injuries.
Both games will be on national television, with Saturday’s 5 p.m. start airing on Big Ten Network, while Sunday’s game will be on ESPNU at 4 p.m.
Shorthanded BU still wins
Boston University was down to 15 skaters and two goalies for last week’s game at Brown, but still managed to come away with a 5-1 win on the road. Coach Albie O’Connell credited the school’s athletic administration for giving the Terriers a chance to play
“Coaches don’t really make those types of decisions,” said O’Connell. “I didn’t really weigh in on it except letting [athletic director] Drew [Marrochello] know that we wanted to play if we could. I think if we had one more guy down, we would have been under the minimum.”
It was the 19th game of the season, with BU improving to 7-9-3. The Terriers played 16 games all of last season. O’Connell credited his leadership group of forwards Logan Cockerill, Max Kaufman, and Ty Amonte, and defenseman Alex Vlasic, for keeping the team on track.
“We’re psyched we got the chance to play,” said O’Connell. “We didn’t get a chance to play a lot of hockey last year. Any chance we can get, we’d love to play another hockey game. I think guys were excited because they knew they were going to play a lot.”
BU skated just four defensemen to go with 11 skaters. O’Connell anticipates they’ll have more players for this weekend’s scheduled series against Arizona State at Agganis Arena, with the first of two games this weekend beginning Friday night. Goalie Drew Commesso, who ran into delays as he worked his way back from Edmonton after the World Juniors were canceled last week, missed the game against Brown but could be back between the pipes this weekend.
Lobbying for a Team USA spot
O’Connell said he had been in touch with former BU coach David Quinn to congratulate him on being named head coach for the US men’s team at the Beijing Olympics, and was asked about the possibility of one of his players heading to the Winter Games.
“I think if one of our guys had the opportunity to represent the country in the Olympics, it would be a great honor for them,” said O’Connell. “It would be good for the program and the individual. We’d wish them well if that did happen.”
Schools continue to make adjustments to their spectator policy as the surge of the Omicron variant continues.
Northeastern announced that home games will be held without spectators until further notice, while Harvard is closing its games to the general public through Jan. 23, with only a limited number of guests of the players and coaches allowed to attend. Proof of vaccination will be required for all guests 12 and older, and masks will be required. Negative COVID-19 tests will no longer be sufficient for entry, and concessions will not be available.
Boston College announced that all fans 12 and over must have begun the vaccination process by Jan. 15 and complete their second dose by Feb. 23. As of March 1, children aged 5-11 must show proof of one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
Boston University is requiring fans 12 and older to present proof of full vaccination (two weeks after final dose) starting on Jan. 15. All guests 16 years and older who are eligible (six months past completing their initial Moderna or Pfizer vaccination; two months past the Johnson & Johnson vaccination) will be required to show proof of booster vaccination and original full vaccination.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.