This Week in Hockey East: Inconsistent schedule ‘can be weird at times,’ freshman players ‘ready for anything’

UMass freshman Josh Lopina has recorded five goals and 11 points through 13 games this season (photo: UMass Athletics).

This hockey season is likely the weirdest time ever for a freshman to begin their collegiate hockey career.

With tons of regulations, inconsistency on the schedule, and some teams having 10 more games than others, it’s a lot to sort through. For anyone entirely new to college hockey, they have the luxury of not knowing how normal things felt in the before times to compare to.

They also have to make adjustments on the ice as well as off, and so far in Hockey East, they’ve handled that balance with flying colors.

“It can be kind of weird at times, you’re scheduling games randomly in the middle of the week or whatever,” said Northeastern freshman Dylan Jackson, who is second in Hockey East in rookie scoring. “Or you expect to not play and you end up playing. You want to get in the mindset you’re going to play. At this point, we’re ready for anything.”

Jackson, along with his brother, Ty, have been two of the most dynamic freshmen scorers in the conference. Dylan has 10 points and Ty eight, and both stepped up considerably when the Huskies were without Sam Colangelo at the World Juniors.

Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, with eight points of his own, has also starred as a newcomer. The lack of familiarity and learning on the fly in a pandemic season has bonded the Huskies freshmen further.

“We do have a few guys who were here last year and they’re doing well this year, and we try to learn from them,” said Jackson. “It does make us a little more comfortable out there, we’re learning together having (the veterans) around.”

Across town, Colby Ambrosio has earned a starring role at Boston College. The Eagles, without star forward Matt Boldy in December at World Juniors, barely missed a beat, and eight points from their freshman leading scorer has contributed to it.

The Eagles have seen their schedule flipped around a bit but haven’t missed much of a beat, with a 6-2-0 record and the highest winning percentage in Hockey East, despite sitting behind UMass and Northeastern in the standings.

As the cliché goes, it’s one day at a time, and as another cliché goes, the Eagles freshmen are too new to know anything else.

“It’s different that sometimes we find out a couple days before (what game will occur),” said Ambrosio. “We just try to focus on ourselves and our team, how we can make decisions on the ice to help us, we can’t focus on everyone else.”

Early January typically works as a de facto halfway point in college hockey, coming at the end of World Juniors, but the disbalance this season makes it more difficult to evaluate. UMass has played 13 games and Boston University just two, and a mix in between.

Josh Lopina’s numbers are the best of all rookie forwards with 11 points in those 12 games, while highly-touted Luke Tuch of Boston University has two in the two Terriers contests.

Without a guarantee the schedule is telling the truth, teams have to manufacture ways to create their own consistency. For freshmen especially, they have to adjust to playing at the college level for the first time and taking games as they come.

“Any given game could be moved,” said Ambrosio. “You could be home instead of traveling or whatever, so how do you try to be consistent? For us, it’s just how do we improve every day, how do we just work on our game every day, focusing on what just the Eagles can do.”

That’s the company line for everyone at this point; one day at a time, focus on what you can do. Everyone in every aspect of life has had to adjust how they live and exist, and it’s no different in hockey.

Freshmen who would usually be experiencing their first college semesters and life as a student have had to adapt. Having an outlet on the ice has helped make the world a little bit easier, no matter the circumstances thrown their way.

“Expect the unexpected,” said Jackson. “The best thing you can do is prepare that you’re gonna play a game. You don’t know what the next couple of days could be like, you know not expecting to play can put you behind, so I think that’s the best way to go about it.”

Woodcroft notches first win

Vermont head coach Todd Woodcroft picked up his first win with the Catamounts this weekend when they defeated Maine 5-4.

The Catamounts (1-5-2) five-goal output on Friday was the most all season. Christian Evers scored twice in the victory, while Carter Long, Tristan Mullin and Jordan Kaplan also tallied.

Vermont split the weekend with Maine and will face Merrimack this weekend after more game-shuffling from Hockey East.

Woodcroft took over the helm for Vermont this offseason after scouting for the Los Angeles Kings then serving as an assistant coach for the Winnipeg Jets, and working for the coaching staff of Team Sweden in 2016 and 2017.

More game movement

It wouldn’t be a game week in 2020-21 without the schedule totally changing before anyone can take the ice.

This week that means Boston University’s series with UMass Lowell was cancelled, and now they’ll head to Amherst to face UMass on Friday night before hosting the Minutemen at Walter Brown at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Providence’s game with UMass on Wednesday night was also postponed.