UMass fine-tunes compete level ahead of BU matchup

  • UMass forward Anthony Del Gaizo, left, cross checks Vermont forward Matt Alvaro, Jan. 12 in Amherst. UMass coach Greg Carvel wants to see more traffic in front of the opposing goal. The Minutemen will look to do that Friday when they visit Boston University. AP file

Staff Writer
Published: 1/31/2019 8:54:22 PM

AMHERST — There were a lot of things off about UMass’ performance last Saturday against Maine.

For perhaps the first time all season, coach Greg Carvel said, the Minutemen didn’t play up to their standards in the 4-3 loss to the Black Bears. UMass was lackadaisical at times and couldn’t match the effort Maine put forth in the game.

This is the 11th straight week No. 2 UMass (19-5-0, 11-3-0 Hockey East) is ranked in the top five and the Minutemen have received at least one first-place vote in every poll since Nov. 19. They hold a three-point lead over Boston College and Northeastern, which share second, and have led the conference since the start of the season.

Although those are great tools for Carvel when he’s recruiting future players, UMass must handle the pressure of everyone’s best shot. The consequences of playing with that target on their back seemed to finally catch up to the Minutemen in Maine.

“The thing that’s hard to learn is that when you’re the first-place team in the league, everyone is wound up to play you,” Carvel said. “There’s not that much difference in teams, so if one team is coming with the higher energy level, that’s going to be a factor in the game. That’s what happened this weekend is that we dipped a little bit in our energy levels and that’s combined with a team that plays a very heavy game. The combination of those thing is something we need to learn quickly.”

Carvel wasted no time in trying to reinstall the fight in his team with an aggressive Tuesday practice that was filled with more energy than previous practices. The action was livelier as the Minutemen were placed in more competitive situations during the 50-minute session.

“We kind of squeezed that out of them with the drills,” Carvel said. “It was a hard practice. We try to manage energy, but if we find in the games they aren’t competing hard enough then we’ve got to start doing it in practice and remind them how hard they need to compete. (Tuesday) was that type of a day.”

The competitive nature was also designed to help spark the Minutemen’s offense. Saturday was one of the few times this year UMass allowed more scoring chances than it produced, and that was despite a 56-34 advantage in shots.

The quantity of shots has not been a problem for the Minutemen over the last two months with an average of 40 shots per game in December and January. The issue has been they have only scored on 8.7 percent of those attempts on goal. The common thread of the games when UMass scores a lot and when it doesn’t has been getting traffic in front of the goal and capitalizing on garbage goals.

As defenses start to settle into their systems more, Carvel said it is more important for UMass to get into the dirty areas and create goals in those situations.

“We’re trying to get better offensively and getting to the net and creating more ugly goals,” Carvel said before pulling out a whiteboard. The coach then drew a square from the two faceoff dots down to the goal line and marked off every goal UMass scored in the two-game series with Maine. Only one of those goals — Jacob Pritchard’s tap-in power-play tally from just outside the crease on Friday — came inside that square.

“It’s a good sign we can score outside of that,” Carvel continued, “but we have to score more goals in there, especially as we get closer to playoffs.”

Friday’s contest at Boston University (10-10-3, 8-5-2 HEA) is the start of an important closing stretch for UMass. The Minutemen play six of their final 10 games on the road and six of their next seven games are against teams in the top half of Hockey East.

“We have 10 games left and every game you get closer and closer to playoffs,” Carvel said. “It gets exciting once February comes around, to me it’s playoffs; every game is big, points become huge and every game feels like a playoff game.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.



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