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Struggles with special teams sinks UMass hockey

(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

It was well established that the Massachusetts hockey team’s doubleheader with Ohio State would be its stiffest matchup to date.

UMass knew it would have its hands full going up against an NCAA Tournament team from a year ago in the Buckeyes but in Friday night’s 3-1 loss to OSU, the Minutemen’s struggles in the special teams department ultimately proved to be the difference.

UMass (3-2) went 0-5 on the man-advantage while also allowing two Buckeye (2-1-2, 1-1-0 Big 10) power play goals to drop the first of a back-to-back in front of 3,060 fans at the Mullins Center.

“They’re a good, skilled team and executed very well,” Minutemen coach Greg Carvel said. “[As far as] special teams, we’re a young team still trying to feel our way around special teams.”

The OSU power play was 0-20 before Friday’s affair yet its units looked smooth with the man-up as junior Mason Jobst netted both power-play goals for the Buckeyes.

Freshman goaltender Matt Murray got the nod in between the pipes for UMass and credited OSU’s ability to facilitate the puck while on the man-advantage as its key.

“I feel like they moved the puck really well,” Murray, who made 21 saves in the defeat, said. “We executed pretty well on the penalty kill. They got a few pucks through and I got beat a couple times.”

Shots were particularly hard to come by for the Minutemen up a player as they managed just seven shots on five power plays.

Until UMass’ final man-advantage in the third period, the Minutemen never seemed to settle down and struggled to get pucks through to Buckeye goalie Sean Romeo.

“It’s a little bit of a frustration right now. It was better at the end, we started moving the puck quickly, that’s always the key,” said Carvel. “[OSU] pre-scouted us well. You could tell that they knew what we were trying to execute and were in good places to prevent us from doing it. They did a good job on their PK pressuring on our half-wall and taking away Cale [Makar]. They knew where we were trying to attack from and did a good job but as the game wore on we adjusted and just started moving the puck quicker and opened it up more.”

OSU took advantage of two consecutive UMass penalties midway through the second period, giving the Buckeyes a five-on-three opportunity, with Jobst’s first of two tallies in what turned out to be the game-winner.

“I thought the penalties were big momentum killers for us tonight,” Carvel said. “They obviously had the much better power play so when we took penalties tonight, especially that five-on-three, when you get an extended five-on-three like that those are really hard to kill off…that was a huge game-changer moment.”

The young UMass core is getting thrown right into the fire on the power play as its top unit is comprised entirely of freshmen, and Carvel admitted to the hardships that come with rolling out such an inexperienced crew.

“I think we’re asking a lot of our freshmen, especially on the power play,” Carvel said. “It’s one thing to go out, play hard and play your position and come back to the bench and not get hurt but when you’re on the PP there’s pressure to make plays and it’s tough.”

The Minutemen now stand with a 3-for-23 (13 percent) conversion rate on the power play and have gone 20-for-24 (83 percent) on the penalty kill through five games.

“I thought their goalie was really good,” Carvel said. “I thought he saw the puck even when it was bouncing around in front of him. I thought seven, eight times the puck was bouncing around. We had breakaways, we had that nice rush after they scored their third goal he got side to side pretty quickly. Their power play and their goalie was their biggest factors in the game.”

Ryan Ames can be reached at rames@umass.edu and on Twitter @_RyanAmes.

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