How the field is doing in Ireland
For the first time since 2016, the Massachusetts hockey team is traveling to Northern Ireland for the annual Friendship Four mid-season college hockey tournament.
The Friendship Four, normally played over Thanksgiving weekend, has not been held since 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The field this year consists of the Minutemen (6-5-1, 2-5-0 Hockey East), along with UMass Lowell, Quinnipiac University and Dartmouth.
Let’s take a look at how the teams are preparing for the weekend.
After one of the best starts to the season in program history, the Minutemen’s game took a sharp turn in November. UMass has a 1-4 record since the beginning of the month, losing twice to Providence College and twice to Boston University. The Minutemen celebrated their first win of the month last Friday when they defeated UNH 4-2 in Durham.
Despite conquering the ice on another continent, UMass’s first game against UMass Lowell (8-5-0, 5-3-0 HEA) will have a very real impact on the HEA rankings. Heading into the weekend, the Minutemen sit firmly in eighth place in HEA, with a dismal 2-5 record. While a potential matchup with No. 4 Quinnipiac would be a great test for UMass, the most important part of the weekend will be getting three points from the River Hawks. UMass can’t afford to drop many more conference games if it wants a shot at starting high enough in the division to host the HEA playoffs.
For head coach Greg Carvel, the biggest focus for his team will be staying together as a group and experiencing a new culture.
“You can’t focus on hockey, you have to go and see all the great opportunities that are there,” Carvel said. “When we’re on the rink, we focus on hockey, but when we’re off the rink, we really focus on the life experience and the opportunity to grow together as a team.”
The River Hawks enter the Friendship Four with an 8-5 overall record and a 5-3 record in the HEA game. With victories against top teams at both the HEA and national levels, Lowell has shown they can compete with any team.
Defense and strong goalies have led UMass Lowell to their strong record up to this point in the season. In 13 games, the River Hawks have not conceded more than four goals in a game and have not been defeated by more than two goals. Lowell is one of five teams in the country to concede under two goals per game and also boasts a national top-10 penalty shootout.
The goaltender tandem of Henry Welsch and Gustavs Davis Grigals was phenomenal, with each goaltender posting a GAA of under 2.00 and a save percentage of over .930. Welsch started nine of the River Hawks’ 13 games and conceded just 14 goals during his time at the net. He is ranked #6 in the country for savings percentage (0.935) and #9 in the GAA (1.76).
“Have a lot of grudge matches with me [Lowell]’ Carvel said. “You will be hungry and we must be careful. Have a lot of respect for Lowell and the way they play and compete. We have to do our best to beat them.”
Quinnipiac (9-1-0, 6-0-0 ECAC) will travel overseas with the strongest record of any team in the tournament. The Bobcats are ranked 4th in the most recent USCHO poll and have lost just one game this season.
Quinnipiac has won seven straight games since his first and only loss this season against Maine. Six of the seven wins came against ECAC opponents, giving the Bobcats a perfect 6-0 record within their conference. Like the UMass-UMass Lowell game, Quinnipiac’s matchup with Dartmouth will have ECAC rankings implications. The Bobcats will be looking to extend their conference winning streak to seven against Big Green.
Starting goalie Yaniv Perets has been a standout player for the Bobcats this season with a 1.82 GAA and a .924 save percentage. The sophomore was named to the East’s second team as a freshman last season by the NCAA and has continued his stellar play into the 2022-2023 season.
Dartmouth (1-4-1, 1-3-1 ECAC) have only played six games ahead of Thanksgiving weekend and have struggled with early struggles this season. The Big Greens are 1-4-1 on their way to Northern Ireland, with their only win coming against Yale 6-0. Outside of the win, Dartmouth have been surpassed 19-7 in their four losses, including an 8-3 loss to Army.
Offensively, the big green was led by freshman Luke Haymes, who scored five goals in the team’s first six games. Haymes has scored in four goals out of six and leads the team by a wide margin in goals scored.
For Dartmouth, a matchup with Quinnipiac gives them an opportunity to spoiler the ECAC top dog. A win, or even a well-played loss, against an outstanding team could give the Big Green some momentum in their Saturday matchup and beyond.
The tournament begins Friday at 9:00 am Eastern Time with Quinnipiac-Dartmouth. UMass vs. UMass Lowell takes place Friday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Both games will stream on NESN+. The consolation game will be played Saturday at 10:00 am Eastern time and the championship will be played later in the day at 2:00 pm Eastern time.
Matt Skillings can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at matt_skillings.