A preview of the UMass team by Rhonda R. McClure from The Pink Puck. Follow Rhonda and The Pink Puck on Twitter for all things hockey. And be sure to check out ThePinkPuck.com for articles and interviews—including coverage of The Friendship Four tournament, as Rhonda once again will be visiting Belfast for the tournament.

The University of Massachusetts is one of the oldest of the four schools represented this year in the Friendship Four, having been founded in 1863 to provide Massachusetts citizens with schooling in the “agricultural, mechanical and military arts.” It was initially known as the Massachusetts Agricultural College, and affectionately nicknamed “Mass Aggie.” Among other areas of the campus, there was a pond fro which ice was cut out in chunks for refrigeration and where hockey took place as early as 1909.

Located in Amherst, Massachusetts, UMass is the flagship of the University of Massachusetts system, which also includes campuses in Lowell (they played and won last year’s Friendship Four) and Boston. UMass has 1,300 faculty and 29,000 students making it the largest public university in New England.

This season marks the first for Greg Carvel as head coach, having previously spent five years as the head coach of men’s ice hockey at St. Lawrence University, which was also his alma mater. As a new coach, he comes into a program that has been struggling and now has a team that needs to buy in to the new program.

“I think it’s two parts. I think the last couple of years, there wasn’t a lot of success, so I think they’re eager for maybe a new direction, but then that new direction has to be something that they want to sink their teeth into,” shared Coach Carvel. “It’s been about challenging them and setting standards that they have to reach for and making them realize that the effort they make will be rewarding in more than just their own personal experience on the ice. Making them understand that being really good teammates ultimately is going to make their college experience and the success of the team what makes things better.”

The Minutemen are 3-6-1 overall this season and 1-3-1 in the Hockey East conference. Their last two games were losses at home to the Vermont Catamounts and then on the road against the University of New Hampshire Wildcats—both teams in their conference. The game against Vermont was a physical affair with penalties for boarding, hitting from behind, slashing, tripping and hitting after the whistle. Despite the number of penalties it was still a close game, with Vermont winning 2-1.

Northeastern University entered last year’s Friendship Four in the underdog position, with a less than impressive record and went on to become the Hockey East Champions. They acknowledged the trip to Belfast as important in that improvement. It will be interesting to see if the same happens to the Minutemen.

The University of Massachusetts claims some impressive alumni, perhaps the best-known being Jonathan Quick, two time Stanley Cup-winning goalie with the Los Angeles Kings. Conor Sheary, who won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins this past June is also an alumni. And for those who remember the Boston Bruins time in Belfast before their run to their Cup in 2011, young, up and coming forward Frank Vatrano is another UMass Minuteman.