April 16, 2014

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UMass struggles continue away from Mullins, balance on offense key down stretch

Last Saturday, season-long road woes continued for the Massachusetts hockey team.

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

The Minutemen (9-10-5, 5-8-4 Hockey East) suffered a 5-2 loss Saturday night against No. 11 UMass Lowell as part of a home-and-away trip on back-to-back nights, remaining winless this season in true road games (0-8-2).

For UMass, the agonizing season-long slide has been the trend for much of the last year and a half. Dating back to the beginning of last season, the Minutemen have rolled out a 2-23-4 record away from the Mullins Center in true road contests.

“We’ve been looking at a lot of tape this week on the last couple of games,” said senior defenseman Michael Marcou, who has led the defensive effort for UMass this year. “It’s pretty frustrating, and we’re obviously disappointed in the way we played … We’ve had a really good week of practice and the preparation is there for us to have a good weekend coming up.”

The Minutemen have underperformed against HEA opponents dating back to last season, going 2-17-4 on the road.

But with such damage coming on the road, the Minutemen are looking for the confidence booster to aid the ailing side. Senior forward T.J. Syner has taken it upon himself to assist his team in getting to places it needs to go.

“As a captain, I’ve been trying to keep on guys,” said Syner, who’s had success winning on the road in previous years with the program. “The younger guys have learned quickly that you can’t take nights off, so we’re just working really hard to correct our mistakes and play like we were not long ago.”

If the Minutemen can correct its mistakes on the road, it will be physically and mentally tested to compete with the best come tournament time in early March.

Scoring by committee

UMass has found all sorts of ways to put the puck in the net this year.

Senior co-captains Danny Hobbs and Syner, both ranked in the Top 5 in goals scored for the Minutemen last season, have found the same success this year but in different ways and at different times.

Syner – who is on the ballot for the 2011-2012 Hobey Baker Award, recognizing the most outstanding player in the nation every year – has been a force against the rest of the conference. Against HEA opponents, Syner is averaging 1.06 points per game, proving that he’s the most significant offensive threat UMass has.

Hobbs, who spent most of the first half of the season dealing with lower-body injuries, has come alive as of late to help the offense. Before last Friday and Saturday’s contests, Hobbs netted five goals in the team’s previous four games, including three against Vermont on Jan. 20 for his first career hat trick.

However, scoring for one or two individual players on a given hockey team comes and goes.

If the Minutemen want to continue to score, it must look to younger players to step up consistently. Sophomores Conor Sheary and Michael Pereira may be the answers UMass are looking for.

Pereira and Sheary have shown that they are capable of scoring consistently when passes reach their sticks. Pereira, a standout last season as a freshman with 12 goals (tied for team lead in 2010-2011 with Hobbs) and 25 points, has not scored since Dec. 29 against Cornell. Sheary, who has blown up onto the national scene, has netted eight goals and tallied 26 total points.

With Hobbs, Syner and other offensive notables leaving after this year, Pereira and Sheary will be left as the main offensive contributors. However if UMass wants any shot of making noise in the conference tournament next month, the offense should look to get the two more involved.

Scott Cournoyer can be reached at scournoy@student.umass.edu and followed on Twitter @MDC_Cournoyer.

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