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No sophomore slump for UMass’ Kravchenko

 

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Dennis Kravchenko is fluent in Russian, English and passing, and he’s picking up French, Spanish and goal-scoring quite nicely as well.

Multi-lingual and multi-dimensional, the University of Massachusetts sophomore from Laguna Niguel got off to a blazing start this year, scoring 12 points in the Minutemen’s first six games, including seven goals.

That comes on the heels of a season in which he tallied 33 points (23 assists) to become the first freshman to lead UMass in scoring since 2008 and topped the Minutemen with a 371 faceoff wins.

He finished second in freshmen scoring in Hockey East. No. 1 was Jack Eichel – the Hobey Baker-winning Boston University center who now plays for the Buffalo Sabres.

“We were thrilled with what Dennis was able to do for us every night, and the beauty of his game right now is there’s no pause from his freshman year,” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “He’s a key part of what we’re doing this season.

“He comes with a great skill set and work ethic, which is what we’re trying to build our program on. His productivity speaks for itself.”

Kravchenko’s goal-scoring has been a nice enhancement to his game.

“I’m more of a playmaker – trying to make a good pass to get guys in position to score,” he said. “My shot has improved the last few years and I’ve been in good position to score.”

Kravchenko, whose first language was Russian – his parents immigrated from there in the early 1990s – was part of a gifted group of 94-borns for the LA Selects – a group that included forwards like Anaheim Ducks prospect Nic Kerdiles, Boston University’s Nik Olsson, the University of New Hampshire’s Michael McNicholas and the University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Austin Ortega.

“It’s good to see all of those guys – and others – tearing it up,” said Kravchenko, who’s proud of the growth of hockey in California. “It’s great to see more and more California kids playing college hockey.”

Kravchenko left California, where he became familiar with Spanish, at 14 to attend prep school at Kimball Union (where French joined the linguistic logjam), and he said the experience altered his life’s course.

“(Now UMass assistant) Ryan Miller coached me, and he got me sorted out,” Kravchenko said. “Prep school was really structured, and he kept a close eye on me and gave me a lot of positive reinforcement.”

Having Miller at Amherst has helped, but Kravchenko said the resources and atmosphere available in college hockey have been just as important.

“We have trainers for everything, and they’ve helped out a lot, too; they deserve a lot of recognition,” he said. “There are so many advantages to college hockey; we have more time to mature and get stronger.”

While Kravchenko’s jump to college hockey has seemed seamless, his prior move – from prep school to the United States Hockey League (USHL) – was not. Yet he credits his three seasons in the USHL for helping prepare him for Hockey East.

“That was my biggest jump,” he said. “I had a lot of trouble getting into the lineup, and the passing and skill level was a lot higher. It took me a year to get used to it.”

After an uneven first year in with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, Kravchenko played two more seasons with the Sioux Falls Stampede where he scored 108 points in 101 games.

“Things took off in Sioux Falls, and staying an extra year in junior helped me out because the USHL is one of the best leagues,” he said.

The preparation paid immediate dividends for the Minutemen last season, and it’s taken on an added dimension with the team’s fast start.

“You can play him in any situation and with anyone,” Micheletto said. “He’s good in the faceoff circle, plays on the power play and kills penalties. We can count on him in every situation.”

– Chris Bayee