Column: How do you top Hockey East? Look north

Massachusetts players celebrate a goal by Bobby Trivigno against Massachusetts during a college hockey game in Amherst, Mass. (J. Anthony Roberts/The Republican via AP)

A popular state school in a hockey-loving area that competes in the country’s top conference should be a recipe for success in the college hockey world. Sure, these traits might sound familiar to you, but it’s not UConn I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the No.1 men’s hockey team in the nation, the UMass Minutemen.

It’s been a long time coming for the Minutemen since their program was revived in 1993. Sure, there was success before head coach Greg Carvel took the reins in 2016. But it only took the new coach a few seasons to get the Minutemen to the top of the nation’s polls for the first time in program history.

Sure, everyone knows rankings in early December don’t mean much. But this team deserves to be number one, and if they keep playing the way they have been, they deserve to stay there. The Minutemen are 12-1-0 on the season going undefeated in conference play so far (7-0-0) in arguably the best conference in the nation.

Outside the conference they’ve racked up huge wins as well, starting the season with a 6-3 road win over Ohio State (who had the number-one ranking at the time) and also skating to wins over No. 18 Princeton and Holy Cross.

What makes this team even more impressive is just how young they are.

The Minutemen are led by defenseman Cale Makar, who is almost inarguably the most highly-touted player in UMass history. Makar – a sophomore – was the fourth-overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft by the Colorado Avalanche, the highest draft pick in UMass history. He decided to stay for his sophomore season in Amherst after an impressive freshman campaign.

It’s certainly paying off for Makar. As a freshman the defenseman recorded 21 points through the 34-game-season with five goals and 16 assists. Through just 13 games this season, Makar is already at 18 points with six goals and 12 assists.

It’s not just Makar carrying the weight. The Minutemen have a balanced effort leading the Hockey East in goals per game (4.08) and fewest goals allowed per game (2.00).

Yes, it’s easy to say all UConn needs to do is recruit a Cale Makar and we’ll shoot to the top of the rankings. Lest you forget, we HAD a Tage Thompson. It takes more than that.

Yet, head coach Dan Cavanaugh and the Huskies need to learn what they can from the Minutemen.

Carvel was 22-49-4 through his first two seasons in Amherst. UMass is on pace to win more than 22 games this season. It’s clear that things can change and can change in a hurry.

The Huskies aren’t in a bad position though. Cavanaugh brought in one of the best recruiting classes in the country this year and things are continuing to look up for the Ice Bus, as they have for the past few seasons.

It may not happen overnight like it did for in Amherst, but hold out hope Husky fans. If UMass can do it, UConn certainly can too.


Connor Donahue is the digital editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at connor.f.donahue@uconn.edu. He tweets at @conn_donahue.