Hockey mailbag: Adjustments for Quinnipiac and conference realignment ideas

Minutemen meet Bobcats for set this weekend


Caroline O’Connor/Collegian

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts hockey team is preparing for its final two-game series of the first semester with a home-and-home against Quinnipiac this Friday and Saturday.

No. 1 UMass (12-1-0, 7-0-0 Hockey East Association) and the No. 8 Bobcats (13-2-0, 6-2-0 Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference) meet up for a highly-anticipated matchup of two of the hottest teams in the nation.

I answered some questions submitted to me via Twitter, ahead of the Minutemen’s tough test:

Question: @LouGoobryuss asked, “Any adjustments for QU’s forecheck after a little trouble from a UConn team with a similar aggressive attack?”

Answer: The best way to subdue an aggressive forecheck, from any team, is to execute smart, simple passes in the defensive zone, which then leads to clean breakouts.  UMass generally shines in this department as I’ve thought its puck movement out of the D-zone has been stellar this season.

Support from the centers is especially important when talking about defending the forecheck because they serve as outlets for defensemen and the wingers, who typically face the most pressure from an opposing team’s forecheck.

To me though, I thought UConn’s net-front presence gave the Minutemen the most trouble in that game, especially in the first period. The Huskies have a few big bodies and they camped out in front of UMass goalie Matt Murray, leading to a 2-1 UConn lead after 20 minutes. I believe the Huskies scored three of its four goals on redirections from players around the Minutemen net. UMass will have similar challenges against Quinnipiac this week.

Q: @Falvitus asked, “Any chance Quinnipiac joins Hockey East, especially since Notre Dame recently left?”

A: I like these types of questions that are a little bit out of the box. They get my mind going.

I really have no idea what the future plans are for Hockey East’s landscape. I would have to imagine another team will make the jump over at some point to bring it to an even 12 teams, but there are many different avenues it could go that it makes it hard to predict.

Quinnipiac is an interesting prospect because I think it definitely fits the mold of a Hockey East team. It has a solid following of fans and students, its facilities are up to par, and it is a respected program around the college hockey community, so I think it would be a great fit.

The only problem is, and I think this rings true with a lot of potential teams, I don’t think it has any interest in leaving its current situation. The ECAC is a challenging conference and Quinnipiac has worked for years to try and build the program up to where it is now, so to leave that for the unknown in a tougher conference would be a risk I’m not sure it’s willing to take.

I would personally like to see Harvard in Hockey East, even though I know it will never happen. I like the idea of having all four of the Boston schools in the same conference and I think it would bring more excitement to the Beanpot if all four were regularly playing each other before the February tournament.

Holy Cross is a team to watch because the women’s program joined Hockey East this season, and I feel like Bentley is an interesting option too, now that they have a new rink in Waltham.

Q: @TooleyDan asked, “I didn’t buy into the preseason hype because the lineup was so young. I’m thrilled of course but what areas do you see that could trip them up post New Year’s?”

A: I hate to sound repetitive because I think I said this in my last mailbag, but UMass’ puck management hasn’t been consistent enough. Coach Greg Carvel talks about this a lot and specifically referenced it after the UConn game mentioning how he wants his team to be offensively creative but they run the risk of sloppy turnovers as well. I also think it falls into the ‘trying to do too much’ category as sometimes an extra deke is attempted or there’s one pass too many on a rush that negates a scoring chance.

Obviously, this hasn’t hurt the Minutemen all that much since they’ve won nine straight but it’ll be something to watch when the games start meaning more in March and April, for sure.

Another quick point, when teams score a good chunk of its goals on the power play and not so much during 5-on-5 play, I get a bit concerned that it may rely too much on its production on the man-advantage. Once playoffs come around, referees tend to put away their whistles more frequently than during the regular season so I always worry of a team’s offense drying up if its power play suddenly doesn’t get enough reps.

Before the Princeton game, that feeling was creeping over me with this UMass team but it then proceeded to score three even-strength goals while the power play went 0-for-4 against the Tigers. Six of its seven goals versus UConn were also during 5-on-5 play.

I’m not saying the Minutemen rely too much on their power play, the prior two games would actually suggest the opposite, I’m just saying that while having an effective power play is always nice, relying on it too much can cause problems, particularly late in the season.

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.