UMass hockey: Merrimack on tap for a home-and-home as Minutemen look to get back in the win column

UMass head coach Greg Carvel talks with his team earlier this season at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass head coach Greg Carvel talks with his team earlier this season at the Mullins Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE


Staff Writer

Published: 01-11-2024 6:36 PM

Modified: 01-12-2024 12:33 PM

It’s been a series of close losses for the Massachusetts hockey team of late. 

The Minutemen fell to Cornell in a shootout and Clarkson in overtime during the Adirondack Winter Invitational at Lake Placid. In its return to the Mullins Center last Friday — its first game since Dec. 9 — UMass fell to UConn in a shootout. Both shootout losses officially go down as ties for PairWise Ranking purposes, though three disappointing end results has the team seeking a bounce-back.

The Minutemen have a chance to return to the win column on Friday, when Merrimack comes to the Mullins for a Hockey East showdown. UMass will then travel to North Andover to face the Warriors in a home-and-home on Saturday. 

After reaching the Hockey East championship game last year, it’s been an up-and-down start to the season for Merrimack. 

“I haven't watched enough [of Merrimack] yet,” Minutemen coach Greg Carvel said earlier this week. “I’ve only watched one period. They’ve been building for the last couple years. I don't think they’re achieving to the level they want to. I sympathize with that. It’s hard in this league to stay at the top of the league. I don’t imagine they’ve lost their identity of how hard they play. We’ll be as prepared for that as we can this weekend.”

Following its three week break in December, Merrimack (9-9-1) has come back on fire and enters on a different trajectory than UMass (11-5-3). The Warriors have won their last three games since returning, beating Brown (5-1), Stonehill (3-2) and Holy Cross (4-3) in non-conference action. 

Merrimack will hope that the win streak can continue when Hockey East play picks up, as the Warriors are just 2-6-1 in conference play.

After being short-handed last week due to injuries and players competing in the World Junior Championship in Sweden, the Minutemen also won’t have their full arsenal of players available to them on Friday. 

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Goalie Michael Hrabel, who competed and won a bronze medal with Czechia during the World Juniors and played more minutes than any goalie in the tournament, is back in Amherst and should be available this weekend. 

Dans Locmelis, who competed for Latvia in the World Juniors and scored a pair of goals in a loss to the U.S., hasn’t yet returned to practice for UMass. Locmelis has five points in 12 games this season with UMass. 

“We’re hoping to have him on the ice this weekend,” Carvel said. “He hasn’t yet skated with us.”

Locmelis won’t be the only player potentially missing for the Minutemen this weekend, with Carvel noting that Aydar Suniev and Samuli Niinisaari were still unavailable as of Tuesday. Suniev has 14 points on the season while Niinisaari has five. 

“We still don’t have Suniev back,” Carvel said. “We’re not as close as I wish we were to normal. We won’t have Niinisaari this weekend. When we get everyone back healthy and refreshed I’ll be very excited.” 

It’ll be a fun battle to watch between the UMass power play and the Warrior penalty kill units. The Minutemen rank 10th in the country in power play percentage (.243) while Merrimack sits at 10th in the country in penalty kill percentage (.855). 

Merrimack comes into the game averaging 3.16 goals per game. Matt Copponi is the player UMass will have to contain, as he leads the Warriors with 1.17 points per game.