Massachusetts Daily Collegian

No. 2 UMass focused on defensive coverage prior to pivotal weekend matchups

Minutemen face tough tests against familiar foes

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No. 2 UMass focused on defensive coverage prior to pivotal weekend matchups

(Simon Nathans/ Daily Collegian)

(Simon Nathans/ Daily Collegian)

(Simon Nathans/ Daily Collegian)

(Simon Nathans/ Daily Collegian)

By Liam Flaherty, Collegian Staff

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After earning a pair of Hockey East Association points in a playoff-like atmosphere at Boston University last Friday, the Massachusetts hockey team realized that it had improvements to make during the week.

No. 2 UMass escaped with a 7-5 victory on the coattails of an offensive explosion and several multi-point outings, but the Minutemen (20-5-0, 12-3-0 HEA) weren’t pleased with their play in the defensive end.

“We’ve spent a lot of time in video the last two days looking at details, line changes; looking at the finer details of the defense,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “Losing is unacceptable but winning and giving up five goals is unacceptable too. We’re a better team than that. I really liked the way we played when we had the puck on Friday night, but without the puck it wasn’t good enough.”

The five goals scored by the Terriers (10-12-3, 8-6-2 HEA) are the most the Minutemen have allowed all season. On top of the four goals-allowed against Maine on Jan. 26, the defensive unit is in a bit of a rut.

“Our biggest thing was our defensive zone coverage,” freshman defenseman Marc Del Gaizo explained, highlighting a combination of poorly-timed line changes and a failure to identify set-up plays coming out of defensive zone faceoffs. “We let up five goals and we’re not happy about that. Just mental errors.”

“BU scored on a line change and scored on a faceoff play,” Carvel added, “which those are just mistakes by us — that’s free offense. Teams are going to have to work harder to score goals the rest of the way.”

Seven days after the shootout at Agganis Arena, UMass will immediately put its progress to the test when it welcomes BU to the Mullins Center for the second matchup of the week between the Hockey East foes. The Terriers are coming off a 2-1 overtime loss in the 67th Beanpot Tournament on Monday.

It will be the first home game the Minutemen have played in three weeks. A sell-out crowd is expected, as UMass looks to complete the sweep of its in-state rival entering the late stages of the regular season.

“It’s going to be awesome,” Del Gaizo said. “It’s an electric atmosphere — one of the best atmospheres in college hockey when it’s full. We’re expecting a full house, so it’s going to be amazing.”

On Saturday, the Minutemen will encounter another familiar foe when they battle No. 15 UMass Lowell in a rematch at the Tsongas Center. The River Hawks (15-8-2, 9-2-4 HEA) spoiled UMass’ second-half opener on Jan. 4 with a 2-1 upset at Mullins, which remains its only loss on home ice this season.

After unexpectedly overpowering the Minutemen, Lowell went on a tear, sweeping Colgate and Vermont, earning three points with Boston College and toppling then-No. 12 Northeastern on the road.

“They play hard, they’re well coached and they finish all their checks,” Del Gaizo said of UML. “We have to get a little bit of revenge from what happened earlier this season. We’re looking forward to that.”

For just the third time in its schedule, UMass is playing against two separate opponents in 24 hours. Playing BU Friday and “the hottest team in the country Saturday,” presents a big challenge, Carvel said.

“These are two very strong opponents,” he added on Tuesday. “Obviously we aren’t going to look past [the Terriers] on Friday, but we’re doing a lot of preparation for two good teams and two big games.”

Although the competition is fierce and the work necessary to stay atop Hockey East is arduous, Del Gaizo isn’t taking his freshman year for granted; no matter the challenges that arise along the way.

“It’s so much fun,” the New Jersey native said of the wild ride thus far. “Every game matters and every game is so intense. Every team is giving their all for us and we have a target on our back. It’s really fun.”

Puck drop for both games is set for 7 p.m.

Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @_LiamFlaherty.

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