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Up To The Minute ▲ Boston College’s Couturier Transfers To UMass

The Massachusetts hockey team added an established Hockey East defensemen for the future as Boston College blueliner Josh Couturier announced he is transferring to UMass.

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Carvel Era Begins ▲ Bamford Chooses Saint Lawrence Head Coach To Lead Minutemen

The state of the Massachusetts hockey program has fallen on such hard times in recent years that some have said it will take an act of God to turn the program around.  Well athletic director Ryan Bamford has chosen a Saint to elevate UMass hockey to the promised land that has mostly eluded the program in its history.  Today Bamford announced that Saint Lawrence head coach Greg Carvel is the new coach of Minuteman hockey, signing a five-year deal to oversee the program.

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Preview ▲ UMass Looks To Get Back On Track With Home And Home Series Versus UConn

UConn Huskies 3-4-0 (1-3-0) Hockey East T-5th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 4-2-1 (0-1-1) Hockey East T-9th

If Hockey East was really serious about cultivating a rivalry on the ice between the Massachusetts and UConn hockey programs this weekend’s series would be taking place in February or March.  But instead we have the Minutemen and Huskies meeting in the first week of November.  That doesn’t mean these games mean any less in the grand scheme of things though.  Both teams are coming off lopsided losses and are looking for a rebound.  UMass was hammered 7-0 by #3 Boston College on Tuesday, a game preceded by a 6-1 loss to #13 Yale, while UConn lost 8-2 to Notre Dame in a game played in Brooklyn over the weekend.

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View From Section U: With And Without Vatrano; Olczyk Hired By Niagara

The Massachusetts Minutemen will have a tough time replacing the contributions of Frank Vatrano this coming season after the star forward signed a contract with the Boston Bruins last Spring.  A couple weeks ago I quantified exactly how much Vatrano meant to the offense last year.  He accounted for almost 1 out of every 5 goals scored last year and over 10% of the total points on the team.  He took almost 20% of all shots taken by the Minutemen.  Without a doubt he will be missed and it is up to players like Dennis Kravchenko and Shane Walsh to step up and help fill the void Vatrano leaves.  But how much did Vatrano’s output factor into the strong numbers those two returners put up last season?  Probably less than you would think.

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Up To The Minute 6/10

Here we are deep into the off-season.  There hasn’t been much to report in the way of UMass hockey news.  All seems to be quiet on Commonwealth Ave, though no doubt the staff is keeping busy with the constant recruiting responsibilities.

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View From Section U: Thank You Seniors!

Four Minutemen will be taking the Mullins ice for the last time on Saturday night.  I’m happy to take the chance to honor them.

▲ #3 Kevin Czepiel ▲

“Holyoke”.  Yep, somewhere in his freshman year I kind of gave him that nickname because I love to see Western Mass players on the Minutemen and thought having Czeips on the team should be recognized.  Usually having local kids on the team involves kids from the Springfield area.  But when Czepiel got to Amherst he was even more local, growing up not too far down I-91 and a former captain at Northfield-Mount Hermon.  Czepiel has had a very solid career at UMass, playing over 25 games in all four years.  A good puck handler he has been able to move around and fill different roles when needed.  At times in his career he played on the top two lines.  However he really excelled on the third and fourth lines where he was asked to shut down opposing scorers.  He did well doing that but opponents would also have to respect his ability to turn the puck around and make a nice pass to a linemate for a scoring chance.

Czeipiel went out and was a reliable forward no matter what line he ended up on.  He played hard.  He moved the puck well.  And stayed out of the box for the most part.  And he was a regular in the faceoff circle.  When the season started and the team needed someone to lead them, he and fellow senior Rocco Carzo stepped and ran the practices and were rewarded with the Cs on their chest.  The city of Holyoke, a former mill town, can be described as a hard-working, blue collar place.  And that’s probably a pretty way to describe Kevin Czepiel’s career at UMass.

▲ #12 Rocco Carzo ▲

Carzo has had an interesting time at UMass.  In his freshman year he played on a line with star forwards James Marcou and Casey Wellman and by all accounts did very well in the role.  He scored six goals that season, two of them game winners, to go with six assists.  His linemates were two of the most prolific scorers in Hockey East that season, with Marcou 4th best in the league with 51 total points and Casey Wellman accumulating the 3rd most goals with 23.  Carzo was deservedly named the team’s Rookie of the Year for his contributions.  Carzo had some big expectations going into that next season, but with Marcou and Wellman both gone to the pros, they proved tough to live up to.  In his sophomore and junior seasons he would end up scoring just three goals total.

Carzo’s path back to becoming an impact player on the squad started in the second half of last year when he was put on the third line with Troy Power and Patrick Kiley.  There were times in the last three months of the season when that line contributed the most consistently night in and night out.  And Carzo was a big part of that.  The resurgence of his career has carried into this year where, as co-captain, he has scored eight goals, 4th best on the team.  It hasn’t been the easiest of careers at UMass for Carzo.  But I was always impressed that, even when faced with unrealistic expectations, he consistently went out on the ice and gave a great effort, eventually finding the role on the ice that fit him best.  I’m glad to see him come full circle and as a senior regain the role of being an integral player on the team.

▲ #16 Eddie Olczyk ▲

Eddie Olczyk’s role was never questioned during his time as a Minuteman. His job as a third or fourth line winger was to go out there and minimize the impact of the opponent’s offensive stars.  And he’s done that consistently.  UMass has had a number of forwards recently who have been able to regularly make an impact on the outcome of games even while rarely scoring.  Brett Watson is perhaps the best example of this.  Olczyk followed in Watson’s footsteps in this regard.  After playing in 21 games his freshman year his playing time dwindled and he only played half of his sophomore and junior seasons.  However I was thankful to see him return to the lineup on a regular basis for his senior year, playing in all the games thus far.

Playing Olcyzk every game has not only helped the defense’s ability to keep the other team off the board, but has had the surprising benefit on offense too.  Through his first three seasons he had amassed just one goal, scored halfway through his freshman year.  But this year he’s tripled that number to three.  Three goals doesn’t seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, but two of them have been incredibly important.  The first came shorthanded in the win over Dartmouth to win the Ledyard Classic, easily the highlight victory of the season.  The most recent goal was this past weekend late in Friday’s game against UNH which temporarily gave UMass the go-ahead lead.  It’s never easy to be the namesake of a hockey legend that also happens to be your dad.  But at UMass Eddie Jr did a good job of making a name for himself as a dependable and hard-working shutdown forward.  And he should be proud for that.

▲ #17 Darren Rowe ▲

There was a time last season when most Minuteman fans probably thought they had seen the last of Darren Rowe in a UMass uniform.  After playing in 45 games in his first two years on campus Rowe seemed to fall out of favor with then coach Toot Cahoon.  In his freshman and sophomore years Rowe played well enough, but never seemed like a natural fit at defense.  He seemed to excel in the offensive zone, where he was able to leverage his puck handling skills and dangerous shot.  But on the defensive end he seemed to struggle.  In the offseason before his junior year I know that I personally advocated for him to move to forward to better take advantage of his natural instincts and strengths on offense.  But that didn’t happen.  Instead he sat in the stands for a good part of the season.  Yet somewhere along the way he was given a chance, made the most of it, and played the last two months of the season last year, though not really on an impactful basis.

Fast forward to this season and perhaps no one has benefitted from the offseason coaching change than Rowe.  Just a year and a half after many thought his UMass career was done he has played in all but one game this season.  Not surprisingly, it’s been his offensive skills that have gotten him the most attention.  And for good reason.  UMass does well when Rowe gets on the scoresheet.  Of UMass’ 11 wins, 6 have come when Rowe registers a point.  In fact the team has a winning record when he does so.  He’s had a number of key goals this season as well.  He scored a power play goal against Bemidji State in the Ledyard Classic, had three points against Providence in January, and had the overtime winner against #9 New Hampshire in November, one the season’s most memorable wins.  Rowe certainly helped add excitement to this season and his resurgance became one of the best storylines on the year.

I didn’t go back to previous years Seniors’ posts, but I’m sure I probably express the same sentiment every year.  That is that I have the utmost respect for the guys that pull on the UMass sweater every weekend.  College is full of demands and distractions.  It can be tough for anyone to make it all the way through and finish their senior year.  To juggle the classes, a social life, and then add on an insane amount of games, practices, and all the other time that goes with being a DI athlete is commendable.  I honestly don’t know how they do it.  But they do and represent the University of Massachusetts well whlie they do it.  I love my alma mater and am proud to tout and represent UMass whenever possible in my personal and professional life.  But these guys actually go out and represent the students and alumni with “UMass” emblazoned across their chest.  And for that they should be recognized.

The last few years have not been fun for UMass fans who no doubt hoped for more wins and better finishes within Hockey East.  But imagine what it must feel like for these seniors.  No player envisions their senior night coinciding with a fight just to extend their season another weekend or two.  I’m sure these guys probably envisioned things turning out much differently when they were ranked 15th in the country in January of their freshman year and the future looked bright.  But the team collapsed at the tail end of that season, Marcou, Wellman, and Irwin left, and the program has had a tough time returning to a successful footing since.  But not for lack of effort.  Let’s remember that these four guys have gone out there and played hard, done their best, and represented Your State U to the best of their abilities.  I’ve always thought Senior Nights at Boston College must be a lot of pomp and circumstance as they count the national championships won by their outgoing players and pat themselves on the back but I’ll take the guys who have had to grind it out for every win, every ounce of recognition, and have battled just to dress for games during their career.  And that’s pretty much how you have to describe this senior class.  Holyoke, Rocco, Eddie, and Darren, thanks for your dedication to Massachusetts hockey.

I know this has been a tough season to follow as a fan.  I also understand that the short term prospects for the team are currently working against them.  But I would hope that the true UMass hockey fans will do all they can to make it to the Mullins on Saturday, if only to clap and thank these four individuals for wearing the maroon and white.  They’ve earned it.

Merrimack will definitely be without defenseman Kyle Bigos on Friday.  Should make for an awkward (though fitting?) senior night for the Warriors.

Paul Dainton is back in the valley.

Gracel Named Hockey East Player of the Week; UMass Named Team of the Week

After being named MVP of the Ledyard Classic earlier this week the accolades continued to roll in for Branden Gracel today as he was named Hockey East Co-Player of the Week.  Gracel shared the honor with Northeastern’s Cody Ferriero.  In addition, UMass was named the Hockey East Team of the Week in this week’s release from the conference.  Shane Walsh and Eddie Olczyk were deservingly named Top Performers after their play in the tournament.

For those who may have missed it, the new rankings came out this past Monday.  This poll reflects UMass’ win over Bemidji State but not the upset of #8 Dartmouth.  The win over the Beavers was enough to get UMass back into the Also Receiving Votes category.  The Minutemen were able to climb back into the Pairwise rankings as well where they’re currently at #24.

College Hockey News has an entertaining piece on the mentality of the team under new coach John Micheletto.

Here’s the Collegian’s coverage of the tournament win.

UMass Wins Ledyard Classic

Going into the Ledyard Classic tournament I was just hoping to see the Massachusetts hockey team show some improvement from how they were playing previously and that a good showing would carry momentum into 2013.  I wasn’t necessarily looking for or expecting anything more than a solid effort.  The team itself had other plans however and last night they won the whole damn thing, upsetting #8 Dartmouth on their home ice to capture the 2012 Ledyard Classic Championship.  The tournament win is only the second in the UMass program’s history with the other being the Lightning College Classic in 2007.

Now while the outcome game was enjoyable for UMass fans, I don’t think many fans for either team enjoyed watching the game itself too much.  That’s because the ECAC officiating, not known for its high quality, made the game painful to witness.  Both teams had a goal called back due to goaltender interference.  The game featured 23 penalties, 10 for UMass and 13 for Dartmouth, and 87 total penalty minutes.  Both teams lost a player to a game misconduct.  There was close to 24 minutes of total power play time, with most of it going to UMass, 17:34 to 6:40.  Now that last stat probably has Big Green fans saying they lost due to the officials (which seems odd since they’re from their conference), but the officiating certainly made things tough for both teams.  Constant whistles kept both teams from establishing momentum.  The inconsistency of the calls kept the players guessing throughout.  And instead of the penalties restoring order on the ice, it seemed it only led to frustration and more chippiness.

UMass won because they were able to deal with odd environment created by the officials and make the most of the opportunities they were afforded.  Especially when those opportunities came on special teams.  This was one area where I hoped to see better play during the tournament and that definitely happened.  UMass scored five of their seven goals in Hanover on special teams, including a shorthanded goal by Eddie Olczyk last night to tie the game in the second period.  Olczyk’s goal was his first since his freshman year and it came right as Dartmouth got the extra man advantage following a UMass failure to capitalize on a two man advantage.  It couldn’t have come at a better time.  Overall UMass went 4 for 15 on the power play during the weekend (giving up a shorthanded goal) and only gave up one power goal in nine chances (scoring their own shortie).

With maybe the exception of the first period against Bemidji, the team played really hard this weekend and it was great to see them rewarded for their effort with some hardware (although I would label the actual tournament trophy as “diminutive”).  The trick of course is what they do from here.  They beat a Bemidji State team that went into break with some key wins over tough foes.  They then defeated a skilled top ten team in their own tournament on their own ice.  Hopefully this weekend gives UMass some confidence that they can play with the better teams and demonstrate what they need to do to execute well on special teams after succeeding against the top penalty kill in the country.  They’ll get a bit of a break as they next game isn’t for another week and a half.  This allows them to get a little bit of rest and gets everyone fully healthy for the second half push.  But hopefully they can also take the next day or two to bask in their tournament victory.  They deserve it.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Branden Gracel
Gracel was named the tournament MVP and with good cause.  He had three assists on the weekend and his goal last night on the power play ended up being the game winner, just 15 seconds into the third period.  Olczyk and Kevin Boyle were named to the all tournament team.

Highlights from UMassAthletics.com

Here is College Hockey News’ coverage of the championship game, as well as their work from the night before.

Here is the Republican’s game story.

The local paper in Hanover has a thorough recap as well.

For those interested in a Beer The Triangle update, I was able to hit a number of quality spots during the weekend.  Probably the beer highlight was going deep into Vermont to visit the Alchemist brewery and stock up on some Heady Topper, currently one of the best beers in the world.  I still miss heading up to Waterbury to goto the old Alchemist brewpub and drinking the full range of beers they used to produce, but the trip was still worth it.  On the way back I hit the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier and enjoyed some fine Green Mountain state brews like Hill Farmstead and Lawson’s Finest.  I might have to take Norwich Inn off my road trip recommendations going forward because their hours make it near impossible to enjoy their brewpub there.  I did hit some other fine places in Hanover though, such as the Canoe Club, Molly’s, and the Residence Inn’s Bar Down, to sample locals beers and good food.  Good beer and a tourney win made it one of the better UMass hockey road trips in quite a while.

Providence Preview

Providence Friars 4-3-1 (3-2-0) T-4th Hockey East

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Massachusetts Minutemen 2-4-0 (1-4-0) 8th Hockey East

Tomorrow will be an interesting game for the Minutemen.  To date they’ve faced a daunting Hockey East schedule and it has resulted in an unfortunate result of 1-4-0 in the conference so far.   But on Friday it gets, perhaps, not quite as intimidating.  To date the Hockey East teams that UMass has played have been traditional Hockey East powers currently ranked in the top 15 in the polls, not to mention teams that have a lot of recent success over UMass.  Providence does not fall into those categories.  But that’s not to say that the Friars should be overlooked.  However the point I’m trying to make is that few UMass fans thought the team would be competing with the likes of Boston College, Boston University, or New Hampshire this year.  Instead they thought or at least hoped it would be teams like the Friars, picked to finish in the middle of the conference, that would be the ones UMass could have to beat consistently to be successful.

That’s not to say it’ll be easy though.  It didn’t take Nate Leaman long to improve the Providence program, leading the Friars to the TD Garden last spring.  So far they’ve done about what you can expect from a talented, but young team.  They narrowly lost at BU, got a tie from Miami followed by a loss, swept Maine, and split with a surprising Vermont team.  Probably not the start to the season that the Friar team was hoping for, but not entirely unexpected.

This Friar team is young.  Of the nine players leading in points only two of them are juniors or seniors, and both of those are defensemen.  The team has been led by sophomore Ross Mauermann who has four goals and two assists so far this season.  A lot of attention has been paid upon freshman and first round draft pick Mark Jankowski who has three goals on the season, though two of those came in the season opener against Sacred Heart.  Providence has also gotten some good production from sophomore Shane Luke and freshman Paul De Jersey who have a couple of goals apiece.

The defensemen have also contributed on offense as senior defenseman Myles Harvey is averaging almost an assist a game so far.  Freshman blueliner John Gilmour has had two goals to go with three assists to date.  The Minutemen will also still have to deal with senior talent Alex Velischek on defense for the Friars.  In net UMass will get their first look at John Gilles, the Northeastern Husky recruit turned Friar goaltender.  Though it’s still early on the season he’s already been named Hockey East Rookie of the Week twice and garnered Defensive Player of the Week honors as well.  Those accolades are not a surprise when you consider the fact that he has a 1.80 goals against average thus far to go with a .932 save percentage.

The good news for UMass when facing Gilles is that the goaltender who is ahead of him statistically so far is Casey DeSmith, the backstop the Minutemen beat last weekend for their first Hockey East win.  Still, beating the Friars will not be easy.  They don’t have a ton of experience, but they believe in themselves and their coach.  But for the Minutemen, this is a bit of a referendum (apologies for the political terminology, I’m sure we’re all enjoying our respite from the negative ads).  UMass has a poor record so far in conference, but they’ve been in almost all the game against top notch opponents and nearly pulled off a number of high profile upsets.  If they’ve been *this close* from beating the likes of BU and BC, this veteran UMass squad should be able to beat an inexperienced Friar team at home, right?  We’ll see.

When first looking at the schedule I perhaps overestimated Providence and was initially very worried about this game.  Perhaps I put too much into how the Friars finished last year without accounting for just how many underclassmen they have to rely on to win this year.  But overall, those underclassmen have come through so far.  If anything you have to wonder where the production is from the likes of Tim Schaller (1G, 2A) and Derek Army (1G, 2A).  Point being, UMass cannot overlook this team.

For the Minutemen, they just have to build off what has gone right for them so far.  There has been a lot of switching of lines to find the right mix, but I thought the line combinations are starting to come together.  The Steven Guzzo/Rocco Carzo/Conor Sheary grouping looked very good last week and helped to get Sheary his first goal.  The other top line of Mike Pereira/Branden Gracel/Troy Power did very well with Power putting up a multi-point night against BC and Pereira getting his first point of the season.  On the other end of the ice the defense has looked very solid, when not fatigued, and the team may have found their starting goaltender in Kevin Boyle.

Honestly, this is a huge game for the Minutemen.  It’s their only chance at points on the weekend and they really can’t afford to fall any further behind in the league.  Add in the fact that this game is at home against a young team that has only one win away from Rhode Island and UMass should be expected to be victorious tomorrow night.  Let’s see if they can turn narrow losses against elite teams into decisive victories against the not quite as experienced teams in Hockey East.

Beer The Triangle
The Hangar is supposed to be having a mini Lagunitas takeover.  It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was sitting at the bar at the Lagunitas brewery in Petaluma while on my NoCal beercation.  According to Stoney they’re expected to have the Pale Ale, Pils, Maximus, and their session Daytime IPA.  Seems like a good way to cap off a decent week of Lagunitas for me after grabbing some of their luxurious Brown Shugga on Sunday while pregaming at Publick House ahead of the BC game and even finding a Little Sumpin’ at Stars in Hingham before that.

USCHO’s Hockey East piece features Providence’s talented youth as well as the almost, but not quite, season for UMass so far.

The Gazette’s preview notes that Mike Pereira had a hat trick the last time he faced the Frairs.

UMass is focused on closing games says the Republican preview.

Providence’s Mark Jankowski is the focus of the preview out of the Collegian.

Via the UMass Athletics website is UMass Hockey: Behind the Scenes hosted by senior Eddie Olczyk.  “Pillows are for those people that are weak.”

UMass Hockey Behind The Scenes

 

Good luck to the Minutewomen Field Hockey team as they take on #1 Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA tournament this weekend.  Go UMass!

Gallacher To Transfer To UMass; Captains Named; Recruit Update

USHR reported yesterday that former Ohio State defenseman Ben Gallacher will be transferring to Massachusetts next fall.  He will be able to play immediately as he is sitting out this year by playing for Green Bay of the USHL.  Like UMass’ other transfer Rob Dongara, Gallacher will have three years of eligibility left when he starts next year.

Gallacher arrived in Columbus highly rated, a fourth round draft pick of the Florida Panthers in the 2010 NHL draft.  However by the time he got there the coach who recruited him, John Markell, was no longer there and Gallacher did not see eye to eye with the new staff.  So after scoring one goal to go with 11 assists with the Buckeyes, he left school last spring.  It was thought he would end up in major junior or even the AHL with the Panthers farm team.  Major junior seemed like a logical option since his father owns the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks.  That didn’t happen though and he ended up in the USHL where he could retain his eligibility and look for another college.  According to USHR Boston College, Michigan, Western Michigan, and Michigan Tech were all interested in adding him as a transfer.  But this past Saturday he gave his commitment to assistant coach Joey Gasparaini who went out to watch him play after Friday’s win.

Gallacher, 5’11” 185lbs, gained a reputation as a skilled puck-moving defenseman in the AJHL playing for the Camrose Kodiaks.  His last year in his native Alberta he had five goals and 22 assists in 37 games.  This year for Green Bay he is pointless after two games in the books.  Overall this looks like a great pickup for the program and staff, their second addition to go with Dennis Kravchenko.   Gallacher will join Mark Hamilton as incoming defenseman next year.  Darren Rowe is the only defenseman who will be graduating this coming spring.  Interestingly Gallacher is the second tranfer from Ohio State for the program with the first being John Toffey who played for UMass from 2003 to 2005.

Hockey’s Future has this profile of Gallacher.

Here are some of his highlights from junior hockey:

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Here’s video of him talking about being drafted by the Panthers.

Before we get into the weekly recruit update, there is some other big news today.  Tonight on his radio show coach John Micheletto named seniors Kevin Czepiel and Rocco Carzo as this year’s captains.  Congrats to them both.  I thought Carzo looked very captain-like on Friday, so not much surprise there.  Czepiel is a little more surprising since he wasn’t mentioned in the earlier captain chatter.  But if you’re looking for someone that has worked hard to earn every minute of playing time he gets, Czepiel fits that mold.  That’s two straight years with a Western Mass native wearing the “C”, as T.J. Syner was a captain last year.  There were no mentions of assistant captains.

Kenny Gillespie – RW – Omaha Lancers (USHL) – 2013
5 GP / 1 G / 1 A / 2 Pts / 5 PIM / -1
No points for Gillespie in his one game this past weekend.

Mark Hamilton – D – Salisbury School Crimson Knights (NE Prep) – 2013
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
Hamilton is due to return to Salisbury again this season. Prep hockey will start up at the end of November.

Mike Iovanna – RW/C – Malden Catholic Lancers (MA High School) – 2013
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
All signs point toward Iovanna returning to Malden Catholic this year.

Dennis Kravchenko – LW – Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) – 2013 or 2014
6 GP / 3 G / 3 A / 6 Pts / 4 PIM / 0
Kravechenko had a power play goal and an assist in a 6-5 win over Fargo on Saturday.

Casey Miller – C – Kimball Union (NE Prep) – 2014
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
It’s expected that Miller will return to KUA again after helping the Wildcats to a New England Prep championship last year.

Willy Smith – LW – Springfield Pics (EJHL) – 2014
4 GP / 0 G / 1 A / 1 Pts / 4 PIM
Smith may be injured as he didn’t play again this past weekend and it doesn’t appear that he’s playing for their Empire team either.

Sorry to hear that former Merrimack coach Chris Serino passed away from cancer yesterday.  Serino also coached future Minuteman Mike Iovanna at Malden Catholic.  Chris is also the father of UMass baseball players Nick and Anthony Serino.

Congrats to Eddie Olczyk Sr. who was enshrined in the USA Hockey Hall of Fame yesterday.  ESPN has this article about what hockey means to the Olczyk family which includes quotes from Eddie Jr.

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