Most of the UMass hockey players don’t know what it was like.
When the Minutemen were finishing 5-29-2 a year ago, the 12 freshmen on the roster were scattered across junior hockey leagues in the United States and Canada only vaguely aware of what was going on at their future home.
The group doesn’t know what it feels like to trudge to the end of a season on a 17-game losing streak or finish last in Hockey East three straight seasons.
Jake Horton knows.
The defenseman from Minnesota is one of the few remaining players on the roster from before Greg Carvel arrived and the team’s only four-year senior. Before this year, Horton saw his team go 24-76-8 in three seasons. Horton has seen some tough times.
So while everyone on the roster recognized that beating Vermont in a home playoff series in front of good Mullins Center crowds was special, Horton knows how far the program has come.
Jake Horton is serving as the Minutemen's captain as he did in 2011-12 for BSM's Class AA state championship team. (Photo by Thomas Kendall)
Jake Horton is helping to lay a foundation for UMass hopes to be a climb to the top of Hockey East. (Photo by Thomas Kendall)
“This weekend, the atmosphere was awesome. To make it to the next round in front of all those fans was incredible. I hope they enjoyed it as much as our team did,” Horton said Tuesday.
UMass coach Greg Carvel elected to start the year without a captain, challenging somebody to earn the honor. Early in February, he tabbed Horton, the steady senior defenseman teammates followed all season.
“Throughout the course of the year by the time Coach Carvel had announced the captain, that Jake had been the captain without the ‘C’ on his jersey,” freshman center Jake Gaudet said. “He’s been a great example on and off the ice. He’s someone we all look up to as freshmen.”
Being the captain in any season would have meant something to Horton. In a year where the program reestablished its values and how players were expected to carry themselves for a young group of freshmen, it meant more to Horton. If Carvel was going to hold him up as the model, he wanted to live up to that.
“It’s always an honor to be the captain of a team, but this is something special, to be the leader of such a young team and to set the footprints for their four years at school is an incredible experience,” he said. “I’m forever thankful that Coach Carvel named me captain. I’m proud to wear it every single night.”
Coming into the year, Horton had a hunch this would be a different season.
“There’s something about this group that just felt right at the start of the year,” he said. “We knew we were going to have our ups and downs, but it was already a tight knit group before the season started. It’s one I’m happy to be around especially in my last year in a Massachusetts sweater.”
He hoped the darker years were forever in the past.
“We’re trying to do our best to lay a foundation here for the program. It takes hard work and commitment to doing everything right. We’re trying to make the most of it and try to keep it going as long as we can,” he said. “This has been a fun year. We’ve been able to do some incredible things. I’m trying to get the younger guys to enjoy every moment.”
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage