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Sophomores lead pack for UMass hockey

  • Cale Makar, right, and the UMass hockey team open the season Friday against RPI at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/CAROLINE O’CONNOR



Staff Writer
Friday, October 12, 2018

AMHERST — There’s a reason UMass hockey coach Greg Carvel has called last year’s freshmen a once in a lifetime class.

The group made a tremendous impact as first-year players and helped put the Minutemen in a position to host a playoff series last year. They quickly became the foundation of what Carvel is building at UMass and with 11 of them returning this season, they are hoping to take that next step.

Two of them — defensemen Mario Ferraro and Cale Makar — were named captains, but the rest of the group has been emboldened by the coaches to be better leaders on and off the ice. It’s message the group has clearly taken to heart as the Minutemen prepare to open their season against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

“The main area we’ve improved is our leadership,” Ferraro said. “Last year, we came in (and) obviously you’re showing the older guys respect so not really getting out of our comfort zone as much. Now when we go on that ice, we’re looking to be leaders all around the ice no matter if a guy is older than us or younger than us. We’re sophomores but we have a little bit more confidence and a lot more leadership out there.”

Both Ferraro and Makar will wear the “A” as alternate captains during games, leaving the “C” to junior Niko Hildenbrad. The two sophomores said it was an honor to be named a captain, but it hasn’t changed how they approach the season or their roles on the ice because they’re used to being leaders on their teams.

Hildenbrand said the announcement of captains in April gave him time to ready himself for the added leadership burden as one of just seven upperclassmen on the roster.

“Having that given to me before the season and knowing what I had to do to lead this team going into the next season, it gave me a chance to prepare mentally for that and know that guys may look up to me more than they did,” Hildenbrand said. “I think being one of seven upperclassmen compared to the (19) underclassmen, maybe it makes that role a little more, but I think we have plenty of leaders on this team, so I’m not too worried about.”

Makar said the shared leadership throughout the locker room that UMass has shown during the preseason is the hallmark of any successful team he’s been part of during his career.

“Most teams I’ve been on, the best teams are when everyone is a leader and everybody has their own qualities,” Makar said. “I feel like we have a lot of those same characteristics on this team and I know a lot of different guys can step up every night to help the team out.”

Last year’s success has led to increased external expectations on the program, but Makar said this year’s team will only be successful if it focuses on the internal goals the Minutemen have laid out for themselves. The Calgary, Alberta, native said the players expect to surpass whatever preseason predictions are set for the program, similar to how UMass shocked many by improving their win total by 12 last year.

Amherst native John Leonard led the team with 13 goals and 28 points last season as a freshman.

“The expectations are definitely higher than last year, but I think that’s the challenge we wanted to have,” the sophomore forward said. “We have a great group of guys in that locker room, even last year, so I think we’ll just build off what we did last year and make a run.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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