April 16, 2014

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UMass hockey searching for answers on offense

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

With the holiday season in full swing, expect goals to be at the top of the Massachusetts hockey team’s Christmas list.

The Minutemen are coming off of a brutal November stretch in which they averaged 1.11 goals per game. The offensive woes also carried over to their record as they went 1-6-2 during that stretch, while never scoring more than two goals in a game.

UMass also suffered multiple lopsided defeats over the last nine games, including a 9-0 loss to New Hampshire on Nov. 9 and a 6-1 loss to Quinnipiac last Saturday.

That 6-1 loss to the Bobcats was especially striking due to the fact that the Minutemen got off to an early 1-0 lead on a Michael Pereira goal but only managed to get 10 shots on net for the entire game.

The offensive ineptitude was partially due to Quinnipiac’s strong defensive unit, but captain Troy Power still thinks his team needs to be held accountable.

“We were completely out of sync and didn’t work hard enough to get into those areas and to get pucks to the net,” he said.

Six of the Minutemen’s shots came in the first period, which meant that they only managed to record four over the final 40 minutes.

One of the reasons why UMass coach John Micheletto thinks his team has been struggling on offensive, especially in Saturday’s game, has been the amount of time spent on the penalty kill. The Bobcats received 10 power plays in the game, including five in the second period.

“You can’t get into much of a rhythm and gain much confidence in your power play or your 5-on-5 when you’re spending so much energy killing penalties and then trying to get back in the flow from it,” he said. “Particularly on Saturday, we had a pretty even back and forth game, not exactly the crispest first 20 I think out of either team, but then in the second period all of a sudden all of the momentum shifts and we’re killing five penalties in the second period. It’s tough to find any sort of offense at that point.”

It’s not like the Minutemen have been struggling to get off shots throughout the entire month like it did on Saturday.

UMass came out firing on all cylinders to take a 2-0 lead over Vermont on Nov. 22 and then went on to register 39 shots on goal two days later despite losing both games.

But many of the shots the Minutemen are taking aren’t coming on quality second chance opportunities or near the crease, which Power said is crucial for UMass to start doing in order to turn around the offensive struggles.

“I think we, just as a group, need to get a little hungrier in the scoring areas,” he said. “We’ve been working on trying to place pucks in areas where we get second opportunities, and we just need to do a better job getting to those loose pucks and bang home some greasy rebound goals.”

Coming into the season it was widely expected that the majority of the goals would come from the first line of Pereira, Conor Sheary and Branden Gracel. But the first line wasn’t clicking early on and Gracel was moved down to the third line for a few games. The three have since reunited on the first line.

One of the issues coming into the season was who would step up behind the first line, which turned out to be the second line of Power and freshmen Ray Pigozzi and Steven Iacobellis. But the team is still lacking a consistent attack from all four lines each night.

“From day one we’ve talked about being a four-line group that can all score goals,” Power said. “At times our line, at the beginning of the year, we got off to a pretty hot start and have cooled down significantly. Guys have been chipping in kind of sporadically throughout the year and we haven’t put together a game, or a series of games, where everyone has come and contributed offensively, it’s been just one line that’s been carrying the team through that game.

“To be a winning and successful team, we’re gonna need every single person on the ice, whether you’re a defenseman, goalie or forward, and we need to do a better job at just collectively all contributing as a team.”

Cameron McDonough can be reached at cameronm@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Cam_McDonough.

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