Matthew Kessel making major contributions for UMass despite late arrival

  • UMass freshman defenseman Matthew Kessel skates with the puck during the Minutemen’s 3-1 win over American International on Oct. 25 at the Mullins Center. Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics

Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2019 9:03:27 PM
Modified: 11/8/2019 9:03:13 PM

AMHERST — There isn’t much for a college hockey coach to do when he’s down a player in late July.

There are slim pickings on the recruiting circuit and those who are still available probably won’t be ready to contribute right away. All the coach can do is scramble the phone lines, call all of his contacts and hope for a miracle.

For Greg Carvel and UMass, that miracle was Matthew Kessel.

“We needed a body and we got really fortunate with Kes because he’s a big body,” Carvel said. “When we lose Jake McLaughlin and you lose Mario (Ferraro) and Cale (Makar), those are all good-sized defensmen. Bringing in Kes who’s a big 6-foot-3 and plays physical and plays hard. He was a huge pickup for us not just because he’s a good player but because of his size that helps balance the rest of our back end.”

On July 25, UMass announced it had signed a Finnish defenseman to round out its 2019 recruiting class. A week later, he left the program, leaving the Minutemen with just seven defensemen on the roster. Carvel started hitting the phones looking for a defenseman around the roster.

On Aug. 8, Kessel had tweeted out his commitment to UMass. Three weeks later, the school announced his addition to the team. A little more than a month after that, Kessel was starting on the third defensive pairing when the Minutemen opened the season against RPI.

“It was obviously a pretty late transition coming here, but I’m very happy the opportunity came about,” Kessel said. “I’m very blessed with everything’s that happened here, they’ve welcomed me right away and I fit in really well.”

It’s hard to tell Kessel joined the Minutemen right before school began with how well he has played. He has integrated himself seamlessly into the locker room and proved his worth on the ice with his solid start to the season.

Kessel said he’s just trying to do the little things on the ice and focusing on his strength, which has freed up the other parts of his game so far.

“I’ve just been keeping my game simple, that’s when I play best,” Kessel said. “Just focusing on my defensive game and letting everything else happen.”

“I feel pretty comfortable out there,” Kessel added. “The first game was a little bit of a learning curve, it felt pretty fast, but I’ve settled in well after a few games and it’s been a lot of fun out there.”

Carvel called Kessel the most impressive freshman thus far after last Friday’s win over Northeastern, a game in which the Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, native had his first multi-point night. He’s already scored twice for the Minutemen this season, a mild surprise considering he’s not known for his offense and scored just twice in 114 games in the USHL.

But the freshman continues to steadily produce on both ends of the ice for the Minutemen, and Carvel said he’s been pleased with how reliable Kessel has been for UMass. The hope is that will continue Sunday when the second-ranked Minutemen travel to New Hampshire for a matinee.

“He’s very consistent,” Carvel said. “He goes out and he’s the same every shift. He competes, he’s smart, he’s got good puck sense, good puck skills, he’s a really complete defenseman. He helps you on both ends of the ice and he’s got tremendous attitude. He fits our identity really, really well.”


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