UMass trying not to ‘overthink’ power play struggles

UMass went 0-for-12 on power play last weekend

Nina+Walat

Nina Walat

By Noah Bortle, Assistant Sports Editor

Much has been made about the Massachusetts hockey team’s power play. Ranked 55th in the country, UMass’ power play struggles have been well-documented this season, but it’s something it feels is on the verge of turning around as it readies for No. 5 Boston College.

“I’m maybe naively optimistic that it’s going to click here,” head coach Greg Carvel said of the power play. “We’ve got too good of players for it not to be working.”

It’s a sentiment shared by the rest of the coaching staff.

“We have really good players on the power play,” associate head coach Ben Barr said. “They are fully capable of doing good things.”

Barr, who’s responsible in part for the Minutemen’s (16-8-2, 9-5-2 Hockey East) power play unit, pointed to overthinking as a key reason for UMass’ paltry 11.8 power play percentage.

The Eagles (15-7, 9-5 HEA) kill penalties at an 81.1 percent clip. Though not bad by any means, their penalty kill sits in the middle of the pack nationally and could offer the Minutemen a chance to relax and execute on the man advantage.

“They just got to keep working on it and keep battling and getting repetitions,” Barr said, “and eventually they’ll get a little bit of confidence and snap out of it.”

UMass has been looking to ‘snap out’ of its power play funk for a few weeks now and hasn’t responded as expected. In this past weekend’s series against New Hampshire, the Minutemen went 0-for-12 with the extra attacker.

“It’s a tough question to answer I think,” said Barr on how they hope to fix the unit’s struggles. “We have to find some chemistry with our power play and that really hasn’t happened. It’s hard to create, that’s the million-dollar question that everyone is trying to answer. Sometimes you see a forward line, whether it’s at the NHL or college or whatever—like the Bruins have that line that scores all their goals. So, you look like a genius if you find that but usually it ends up just being like, ‘hey, they worked well together for whatever reason.’”

While Barr blaming “overthinking” as the main cause for UMass failing to consistently find the back of the net on power plays may seem like an oversimplification, there’s reason to believe it may be the case.

After all, the Minutemen have shown a knack for scoring goals this season. Their 3.27 goals per game rank 13th in college hockey.

Not only has UMass’ offense been prolific as a whole, it also features two of the top goal scorers in the entire nation, something that tends to lend itself to power play success. John Leonard and Mitchell Chaffee both sit within the top-three for the NCAA lead in goals.

Both players have shown their ability to score seemingly at will for stretches this season and spend a lot of time on the Minutemen’s top power play unit, where they have combined to score six power play goals, accounting for half of the team’s season total. However, the two have combined for just one goal on the man advantage since returning from break on Dec. 29.

It’s easy to see overthinking as a reason for UMass’ top-end talent failing to contribute on the 5-on-4.

“I really think it’s a lot like having the shanks in golf,” Barr said. “You see professional golfers get the shanks and you think, ‘okay, how does that happen?’ We’re kind of there a little bit with the [power play].”

The question remains: how do the Minutemen plan to fix something as abstract as “overthinking?”

“I think you talk about it and make sure they know it’s okay to have fun with it,” Barr said. “I know it’s a battle right now and all that kind of stuff, but coach Carvel does a great job at that. They’re still out there working hard—I think they’re frustrated they haven’t scored but the effort attitude and commitment is still there.”

Although the power play hasn’t been converting, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been stretches where UMass has flashed its ability to generate dangerous chances on the man advantage. Against Vermont two weeks ago the Minutemen scored just once on the power play, but Carvel was pleased with how his team looked for large stretches of the weekend.

With the losses of Cale Makar, Mario Ferraro and Jacob Pritchard, the UMass power play looks much different than it did a season ago, but still has the talent to have a quality power play.

“We have a lot of depth, depth that we haven’t had—even last year,” Barr said. “We have a lot of players who are fully capable at playing at high levels and helping us win. We’re not a team that’s good enough to have two or three guys not playing well in a game or not contributing to their ability and that’s kind of been our crutch in the games that we haven’t won or had a hard time scoring goals.”

The Minutemen and their power play unit take on BC Friday night at 7 p.m. trying to utilize their depth to turn around their man advantage.

Noah Bortle can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @noah_bortle.