UMass center Josh Lopina a quick study during freshman season

  • Freshman center Josh Lopina, left, talks with junior forward Bobby Trivigno during the season opener against UConn at the Mullins Center on Nov. 20. Chris Tucci/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass freshman center Josh Lopina, left, is shown during the season opener against UConn at the Mullins Center on Nov. 20. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/3/2020 6:15:23 PM
Modified: 12/3/2020 6:15:13 PM

Josh Lopina centered the first line of a top-10 team in his fourth collegiate game.

The freshman from Minooka, Illinois, saw his name atop the UMass line sheet when he entered the Mullins Center locker room before Saturday’s game against Boston College. He’d scored the first two goals of his collegiate career the night before in Boston and established himself as one of the Minutemen’s best at winning faceoffs.

“It’s just hard work that got me to where I am now,” Lopina said.

He started his career as the third-line center after two years with the Lincoln Stars in the USHL. Lopina, 19, had 62 points and 24 goals in 106 games.

“I didn’t see Josh in the recruiting part of his process. After we committed him, I went to watch him, and I was really excited at what I saw,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “He’s a big kid, a really smart player with a good stick. Our concern was how quickly could he learn to compete at this level. I think he real quickly figured it out.”

Lopina adjusted quickly to both college life in the hockey bubble and the college game.

“It’s my first year here, so I don’t really know any different about campus when it’s really going,” he said. “The guys have made the adjustment really easy. Everyone makes you feel really comfortable here.”

Lopina found his true comfort zone in the faceoff circle. He’s won 53 of 87 draws through four games.

“Faceoffs are something I really pride myself in. I work a lot on them after practice,” he said. “It’s something we talk about as a team, getting those draws lets us play offense.”

Carvel and the staff already trust him in big moments. He took most of the draws late in both games against BC. Lopina also skates on the power play, an already improved unit for the Minutemen. They’ve converted 4 of 18 opportunities. UMass only scored 16 times with a man advantage all of last year.

“I’m not surprised at what he’s done based on what I saw from him in the USHL,” Carvel said. “We’ve needed that. He takes our big faceoffs, and he’s gonna be a good player for us.”

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE — Despite a global pandemic, reduced campus population and modifications to the game day experience, it’s largely been business as usual for UMass through three weeks. Carvel said he comes to the office the same hours and prepares the same way.

“It’s not that far off from what we usually do. Inside our little hockey bubble, things are pretty normal, it’s just outside of it,” Carvel said. “Not having fans at the games doesn’t take away from the intensity, but it takes away from the atmosphere. You walk out to the bench to start the game and it’s a strange feeling like it’s an exhibition or you’re walking out to practice.”

SCHEDULE UPDATES — Hockey East’s flexible schedule continued its contortions. The Minutemen will face Merrimack on Saturday and Sunday in a home-and-home afternoon series. Saturday’s opener is at 4:30 p.m. at the Mullins Center and will be broadcast on NESN-Plus.

Sunday’s game in North Andover will be streamed online and broadcast on the radio.

UMass is the only Hockey East team to play during each of the first two weekends, and only Boston College, which will face Providence, has games scheduled and games under its belt.

HOOP GAME — The UMass men’s basketball team revived a non-conference game at Northeastern on Dec. 13 at noon. The Minutemen paused team activities on Nov. 17 after a positive COVID-19 test in the program. The teams previously planned to play on that date, but Northeastern had halted all athletic activity on Nov. 24 through Dec. 18 before changing course. UMass is currently scheduled to open the season at La Salle on Dec. 9.

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