The Massachusetts hockey team will look to get back to a defensive state of mind when it hosts Ivy League power Yale Wednesday night at the Mullins Center.
UMass has struggled in various defensive aspects throughout the season, which through 15 games, is soon reaching the mid-point. Whether it’s been getting back on transition rushes in their own zone, getting mismatched on assignments off face-offs or getting beat along the boards for puck control, the Minutemen need to realize that a good defense can generate offensive opportunities.
“Last week [in practice], we really worked on transition breakouts, just having clean transition, going back on offense,” said sophomore defenseman Adam Phillips on the team’s focus as of late. Phillips scored a goal to help UMass skate to a 4-4 draw against Harvard last Friday.
“We’ve played well at trying to get the puck to the middle of the ice … we worked at getting all five guys to break the puck out,” added Phillips.
One issue plaguing the UMass defense is its youth. With five sophomores getting significant playing time, there’s little room for them to go through growing pains.
Phillips, who played in 33 games a freshman, put up 10 goals and five assists, recording three multi-point games. Now in his sophomore year, Phillips has struggled to not just improve on his offensive game that caught attention last season, but he’s struggling to find his game altogether.
However, despite Phillips’ first goal of the season coming nearly halfway through the season, the sophomore’s physical play on both ends may be an indicator that his game may be coming back.
“Overall, I feel like we can be a pretty offensive group as defensemen,” said Phillips.” I just hope that we keep that going.”
As a unit, the defense is littered with inexperienced underclassmen. Outside of one junior and senior, the defense consists of four sophomores, a redshirt sophomore and one freshman. Despite its evident growing pains, however, senior defenseman Michael Marcou said he believes the unit is coming along.
“We have a pretty solid defensive core,” said Marcou.
Another phase of the game to improve upon that will help the cause going forward is keeping penalties in check.
As a whole, defensemen on the team have racked up 39 total penalties for a combined 89 minutes. In Friday’s contest against Harvard, UMass committed eight penalties, two of which came from defensemen.
“It’s tough to play the whole period a man down,” said Marcou of the Crimson’s two power play goals on three opportunities in the second period.
Phillips, along with fellow sophomores Colin Shea and Joe Hanley all played in 28 or more games last season. They hit the ground running as freshmen and experienced growing pains as the Minutemen amounted just a 6-23-6 record, a rebuilding year considering the senior loss from the year before.
“I think calling our team young is a little overplayed now,” said Marcou. “I think everyone has enough games on their belt and enough experience to go out and [play well] game in and game out.”
Scott Cournoyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @MDC_Cournoyer.