Faceoffs proving to be the game within the game for UMass hockey

Minutemen badly outdueled in the dot vs. UML

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Faceoffs proving to be the game within the game for UMass hockey

Amelia Shaw/Collegian

Amelia Shaw/Collegian

Amelia Shaw/Collegian

Amelia Shaw/Collegian

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

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The Massachusetts hockey team didn’t show a lot of pep in its step in the 2-0 loss to UMass Lowell last Saturday. UML appeared to have an extra gear that UMass (21-6-0, 13-4-0 Hockey East Association) just couldn’t get to and it cost the Minutemen a series defeat to the River Hawks.

Two first-period goals were the difference, but UMass’ compete level and attention to details weren’t where they needed to be. With playoff hockey in the not-too-distant future, that brand of hockey won’t get you very far, no matter how much talent you possess.

“Lowell’s second goal, our habits and our breakdowns of our structure quickly led to that goal,” coach Greg Carvel said. “Playoff hockey, you can’t give anything away for free because Lowell certainly wasn’t. We have to improve on the details, maintain the offense and improve the defense.”

Part of that breakdown occurred in the faceoff dot where the Minutemen lost 40 of 68 total draws. It didn’t compound the loss, as UML didn’t score in the second or third period, but it certainly didn’t help UMass.

Faceoff wins lead to possession and possession leads to scoring chances and none of that was in UMass’ favor at the Tsongas Center.

“I think that’s one of the biggest indicators if a team is ready to play,” center Brett Boeing said. “You look at any opening faceoff in any game, you always want to win that first faceoff and win possession and you can always tell which team is ready to play off of that opening faceoff.”

Against the River Hawks, Boeing admitted the Minutemen weren’t ready to go based on a scoring chance for UML that materialized off the opening draw.

“Faceoffs are a lot about outwilling, outcompeting, it’s about five-man units, it’s about being stronger and heavier and that’s Lowell’s strength,” Carvel said.

UMass’ most successful faceoff man is John Leonard, winning draws at a .581 clip, however he mostly takes faceoffs when the Minutemen are headed to the power play as he is a winger. Jack Suter is next with a .558 winning percentage but he’s been in and out of the lineup.

Boeing and George Mika are the best in the dot as true centers, winning .520 of his faceoffs while Jake Gaudet has a .502 mark and Philip Lagunov is at .479 to round out the centers.

“I think the mindset is, if you’re not in the rhythm, if you lose one or two in a row, I got to talk to my wings and be like ‘hey, I’m going to tie him up, I’m not 100 percent today,’” Boeing said. “The wingers will help me out and hopefully just as a team we’ll win the faceoff.”

The main responsibility is on the centermen during faceoffs, but having wingers and defensemen aware of what is about to happen is key.

“We have special faceoff plays we run in the offensive zone, we run plays in the D-zone but like I said as a whole, it’s communication,” Boeing said. “It’s not just the center winning the faceoff, it’s the team as a whole.”

UMass has won 50.8 percent of its faceoffs this season as a team—third best in Hockey East. Boston College, this weekend’s matchup, leads the league in the dot with a 53 percent conversion rate as well as three of the top 10 faceoff men in Hockey East.

The Minutemen hope to bounce back with a strong series against the Eagles (10-14-3, 9-5-3 HEA) and it’ll all start with the very first play of the game.

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