With lessons learned from Denver, UMass shifting its focus to Boston College

Top-10 series against the fourth-ranked Eagles commences on Friday night in Chestnut Hill

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With lessons learned from Denver, UMass shifting its focus to Boston College

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

Collegian File Photo

By Liam Flaherty, Assistant Sports Editor

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The theme never changes for the Massachusetts hockey team: another week, another opponent.

This week, after being swept by No. 5 Denver on a pair of come from behind efforts, it’s more of the same for the Minutemen (13-6-1, 6-3-1 Hockey East) – nothing really changes. They remain locked in on the present, focused on getting better and the next foe on their schedule: No. 4 Boston College.

In preparation for the Eagles (12-4, 6-2 HEA), who are riding a ten-game win streak into the home-and-home showdown, No. 10 UMass is looking to address what slowed it down against the Pioneers.

“We gave them a good battle, we came close both nights and probably could have found a way to win but didn’t quite deserve it,” coach Greg Carvel said on Tuesday. “We lost the special teams battles; you lose by a goal each night and special teams was definitely the difference. Not that we deserved to win, but special teams was not great, and I thought that was the biggest difference in the series.”

Additionally, the defense that went into the series allowing fewer than two goals per game allowed four each night, as well as two on the power play.

Facing another top-10 team, the Minutemen are focused on not making the same mistakes twice.

“Penalty kill has to be better, goaltending has to be better,” Carvel said, “and eliminating the skill that BC has, just like Denver is a very skilled team, we gave them too much space and time. Try to limit as much as you can, but skilled teams are going to get scoring chances, so you just got to try to limit it.”

BC will get a major boost when it hits the ice this weekend as standout freshman goaltender Spencer Knight returns from the World Junior Championships with Team USA. Due to travel, he did not play in BC’s second-half opener, an 8-3 win over Vermont on Saturday to kick off the new year.

Knight is one of the best in the nation and makes a stout Eagles defense even tougher to match up with. The Connecticut native holds a .940 save percentage and a 1.73 goals-against average.

“You got to try to make life tough on him,” Carvel said, “try to create chaos in front of him, try to get traffic and try to take a high volume of shots, because his save percentage is pretty damn good.”

In front of Knight and the seventh-best defense in college hockey, BC’s offense has been clicking at a high rate as well, scoring an average of four goals per game, the second-highest mark in the nation.

The top line of veteran scorers David Cotton, Julius Mattila and Logan Hutsko leads the attack with 59 points. While the lethal trio sits at the top of the scoresheet once again, a huge difference-maker for the Eagles this season has been the emergence of more scoring depth throughout their lineup.

Guys in the bottom six like Aapeli Räsänen, Alex Newhook and Mike Hardman have all added a lot of depth, but perhaps even more important than the scoring variety has been BC’s power play.

During their 10-game win streak, the longest active unbeaten streak in the country, the Eagles’ man advantage unit is converting at a whopping 40.5 percent with 15 power-play markers.

Against Denver, the Minutemen showed they can hang around some of the best in the country, but they also showed that they can’t win those high-stakes kinds of games without a full 60 minutes.

“There was a ten-minute stretch in the second that we were poor and Denver scored two or three goals in that stretch,” Carvel said, “so against good teams –  I think we’ve been able to get away with playing 50 minutes against some teams in the first half, but in the second half if we don’t play 60 minutes we’re going to have a tough time winning.”

This weekend, starting Friday in Chestnut Hill, they’ll look to put their lessons learned to use.

Then, like clockwork, it’ll be onto the next one.

Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. on Friday at Conte Forum and Saturday at the Mullins Center.

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