Extra passes earning Minutemen success this season

By Neil Carroll

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In the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team’s season-opening 15-12 victory against Sacred Heart, the Minutemen attack almost always made the extra pass.

“We’re always going to struggle with [assists],” UMass coach Greg Canella said. “Last year we didn’t have many assists at all, but we put an emphasis on that this year.”

It was evident from the early going that UMass attempted to fill in for the loss of last year’s leading scorers, Tim Balise and Jim Connolly, with an abundance of passes which resulted in more shot attempts.

The Minutemen (1-0) focused on making the so-called “hockey assist” – a strategy that means making the extra pass before shooting – and the comeback win at Sacred Heart shows that it’s paying off.

“With better ball movement within the offensive sets, I think we’re going to get the better opportunities, and better shooting opportunities,” Canella said.

UMass had 34 shots on net in the win, but a total of 55 shots for the entire contest.

“Make the pass that creates the assist, you don’t always have to get the assist,” Canella said of his offensive philosophy. “It’s really a mindset for our guys.”

Bobby Hayes and Art Kell are tied for the team’s lead in shots, but also wound up as the team’s leading scorers. Hayes, UMass’ leading scorer returning from last season, had a career-high four goals from the midfield position. Kell also set a career-high with a hat trick, while also adding an assist in the winning effort.

Although Kell is only a sophomore, he is the most experienced on the UMass attack and demands much of the defensive attention. At 6’2”, Kell is a big target for the midfield, but shows the quickness to be able to play from behind the net.

Midfielder Ryan Hantverk had nine shots in the first game of the season, scoring two goals in the contest. The junior showed off a powerful shot when he lined up with Sacred Heart’s Zach Frank from the top of the box and still put the shot past the Pioneer’s goalie.

Garber Gorillas

UMass athletic teams have been called by a few different names over the seasons: the Minutemen or Minutewomen, the Maroon and White, or even more affectionately, the ‘Mass Attack.’

Excellent play at Garber Field, however, has earned the men’s lacrosse team the moniker ‘the Garber Gorillas.’ This weekend, the Minutemen are playing against Hartford where they first earned the nickname – Garber Field.

“I like it,” Canella said with a smile. “Anything with the Garber name thrills me. Coach Garber, as my coach and mentor, we keep his name within the program and regard it highly.”

The field is named after legendary coach Dick Garber, who roamed the UMass sidelines from 1955-1990. Garber racked up a career record of 300-141 and ranks third all-time in NCAA coaching wins.

While the nickname does make a correlation between the UMass players and rugged animals that live in the jungle, the Minutemen are satisfied with the name because of the success they have had with it.

The name comes from a marketing ploy based of an event back in 1969 when a UMass player’s girlfriend wore a gorilla suit with the player’s jersey to a game, and then the nickname took off.

“It stuck from that day on,” Canella said. “The fans love it, the people love it and hopefully the gorilla will show up for the game and we’ll keep that tradition going.”

Neil Carroll can be reached at [email protected]