In hockey, playing on a man advantage is a golden opportunity to change the score or swing the game to your team’s favor.
It’s equally as important to be effective playing a man down, and the Massachusetts hockey team has seen plenty of that disadvantage through its first four games of the season. The Minutemen have committed 29 total penalties, which averages to a league-leading 21.2 minutes per game. What’s worse is that UMass ranks last in the penalty kill, killing off 13-of-17 power plays (76.5 percent).
“We have to eliminate the ones we can control,” said UMass coach Don Cahoon in regards to penalties totaled so far this season.
Penalties are a part of hockey. In a game with poking, prodding, hooking, slashing and checking, frustration can certainly mount over the course of 60 minutes. That’s not to say that there are not ways to prevent infractions from occurring, which makes great hockey teams great – the ability to seize control in the moment and execute a defensive stop despite being out of position.
The penalties made by the Minutemen are, as Cahoon put it, mistakes that are within their control of preventing.
“[Our] stick infractions have to be eliminated,” said Cahoon. “We’ve had a stick foul in every game, and that has to stop.”
The disparity of power plays to penalty kills for UMass is large, and its had a major impact on its 1-2-1 overall record this season.
The Minutemen have committed one 5-minute major penalty, two 10-minute misconducts and a 10-minute game misconduct. The first 10-minute misconduct occurred against sophomore defenseman Adam Phillips midway through the third period against Bentley on Oct. 14.; the second came last Friday against Boston College against senior forward T.J. Syner, again in the final period of play.
“You can control the kinds of penalties that are unquestionable,” said Cahoon. “As far as some of the misconducts, there’s no room for that … we have to control those.”
With so much time spent on killing off penalties, the Minutemen have not hand significant time to gain experience even strength or on the power play. The penalties have given UMass no choice but to play a style that doesn’t suit what the team is attempting to put in place. The Minutemen are constantly forced to drop people back on defense, as well as dealing with constant pressure on the UMass goaltender, both of which change the complexity of the game.
The lone bright spot of this undesirable situation is that the defense has received plenty of high pressure situations.
“I think our defense, as a whole and our core is pretty solid,” said Cahoon. “They were all freshman last year, asked to do a lot. A year later, it’s served them pretty well, knowing expectations and what the pressures are.”
With top-tier opponents littered in the Hockey East, physical play against bigger, faster, stronger opponents will not stop, as UMass will play eight of its next nine games against conference opponents.
In order to climb the conference standings, the Minutemen will have to start showing some discipline.
Scott Cournoyer can be reached at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @MDC_Cournoyer.