Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass hockey’s power play comes down to simple execution

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts hockey team had three power play goals in 33 minutes, 34 seconds of hockey on Saturday night against Michigan State. So when the opportunity for a fourth one came just five minutes later, the Minutemen weren’t changing a thing.

UMass sent its second power play unit out in a 2-3 formation with Steven Iacobellis and Ray Pigozzi out at the wings, Troy Power freelancing in the middle and Colin Shea and Adam Phillips out at the point. There was no creativity involved – just flat passes and pure execution.

Power possessed the puck behind the net and passed to Iacobellis at the right circle. Spartans defenseman R.J. Boyd moved from in front of the net out to the wing toward Iacobellis to play the puck. Power immediately reacted, slipped behind Boyd and stood wide open in front of the net.

Meanwhile, the other three MSU penalty killers, including defenseman Travis Walsh, were too preoccupied with Pigozzi, Phillips and Shea, who had all registered points earlier in the contest, to notice Power.

Iacobellis tossed the puck his way and the redshirt junior did the rest, making a couple stabs at the puck before beating Spartans goaltender Will Yanakeff before Walsh could come back to help from the far post.

The goal put UMass up 5-2 late in the second period, which was the final score as the Minutemen swept MSU with five power play goals – four of which came on Saturday – in their weekend sweep at Mullins Center.

“I think the big thing for us on the power play this year is simplicity. We’re keeping it simple, we’re making flat passes and we’re getting pucks to the net,” Power said. “The power plays we’ve scored on most of the time this year have just been bang-home rebound goals when we’re just getting pucks through.”

The Minutemen may be keeping things simple on the man-advantage, but it appears to be paying off. UMass has scored on 8-of-25 power plays this season, which is tied with Northeastern for the second-highest percentage in the nation at 32 percent. Michigan is in first at 37.5 percent.

According to UMass coach John Micheletto, one of the biggest reasons for the Minutemen’s early success on the power play, particularly on Saturday, has been due to successful puck retrievals and the ability to regain possession of the puck after losing it. This gives UMass more time in the offensive zone and makes it easier to work the puck around in its base set.

This not only goes for that second unit, but also the top grouping of Branden Gracel, Conor Sheary and Michael Pereira at the forwards, and Ben Gallacher and Joel Hanley at the point.

“I think the nice thing is that we’ve got two units that are both doing what they do very well in two different formations, so it’s a little bit harder for opposing penalty kills to make quick adjustments between those two formations,” Micheletto said. “I think that gives them a little bit of an advantage, but I think they both understand where their options are and where their checkdowns are and we make sure at least in the early going that we’re spreading around which options we’re sorting down to. That’s the biggest thing about it … It’s difficult for any penalty kill to get comfortable.”

The X-factor for the second group is Power. He’s given the freedom to move around the net, in front and even into the high slot based on what the penalty kill is showing. But that also makes him responsible for finding space and potentially drawing players from the perimeter toward him to create openings for the rest of the unit.

“If I’m high it gives the guys down low a little more time, if I’m low then it draws defenders to me low and gives Phillips and Shea a little more time,” Power said. “So it’s kind of a read and react situation that we all do, so initially until we the get the puck I’m more low, then I just kind of float to the soft spot in their coverage and if I can’t do that I hope to pull a couple guys with me and free up shots for Adam or Colin.”

The first power play unit aligns itself a little differently, and it was clear in UMass’ second power play goal 7:28 into the second period on Saturday.

Gracel was behind the red line near the left corner of the rink and Pereira was on the other end near the right post at the red line. Gracel passed the puck along the boards to Sheary, who then fed Gallacher at the point.

From here, Gallacher’s first job is to freeze the forward coming at him with either a fake or holding the puck for an extra second with his eyes up to keep the opponent honest, then he can choose to go back to Sheary down the wall, go down low to Gracel or Pereira or across to Hanley for a one-timer.

He chose the latter and Hanley beat Yanakeff to tie the game at 2-2.

“I think we’re just trying to move the puck, we’re looking at their box and seeing what they’re doing and how they’re gonna react to our first move and I think we just kind of read the game from there,” Gallacher said.

But even with that in mind, the Minutemen could possibly run different sets by next weekend at Maine depending on what the Black Bears show on the penalty kill on film and through in-game adjustments.

“We don’t like to practice against one penalty kill,” Micheletto said. “The video you get on somebody, they could change their scheme that week, they could change their scheme mid-game or over the course of a weekend series. We just run our power play against every possible formation to make sure we’re as fluid as we can be on the power play and adapt to anything that we see.”

Regardless of what its opponent runs, UMass isn’t trying to be pretty. Its fast, aggressive style of play is built to get the dirty goals in close, especially on rebounds and other second-chance opportunities.

“We’re a gritty team. I don’t think we’re gonna have a lot of highlight-reel goals, so we just play a style of game that’s gonna have those type of goals,” Pereira said. “With that being said, I think we’re gonna have our share of highlight-reel goals this year, but when we’re getting the dirty ones that’s gonna win hockey games, so that’s key.”

Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.

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