Even in defeat, UMass power play shows signs of improvement

Changes to UMass’ power play have sparked success

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Collegian File Photo/Daily Collegian

By Evan Marinofsky, Assistant Sports Editor

LOWELL – When Chris Schutz’s goal slipped past an unaware Matt Murray with 27 seconds left in what had been a tie game, the Tsongas Center erupted, and the Massachusetts hockey team’s bench completely deflated.

A 3-2 loss to the River Hawks (16-9-5, 10-6-4 HEA) in Lowell – a city in which UMass (18-10-2, 11-7-2 HEA) hasn’t won a game in since 2011.

Tough loss all around.

But there was a bright spot for the Minutemen that could pay real dividends down the road in what was a demoralizing loss for the squad: the power play put up one – but kind of two – goals in the loss.

“We’ve been waiting a long time,” Greg Carvel said of making the power play effective.

UMass found itself on the power play late in the first period and with the score 1-0 River Hawks, it was in dire need of turning the tides. Carvel sent out his top unit and after a few solid chances, Marc Del Gaizo’s shot trickled through Tyler Wall’s legs and John Leonard stuffed home the loose change to tie the game.

Chalk that up as one for the man-advantage.

Technically speaking, UMass only finished with one power play goal on the scoresheet. However, Bobby Trivigno’s goal to give UMass the 2-1 lead midway through the second period came just as UML’s penalty expired. Blake Wells, who’d been in the box for high-sticking, hadn’t even put his foot on the ice yet coming out of the sin bin.

If you were counting the guys on the ice, UMass had five and UML had four, so the Minutemen still had the man-advantage.

Del Gaizo, Jack Suter and Trivigno connected for a tic-tac-toe goal that went to all parts of the offensive zone.

It appeared like a breakthrough for a power play that entered Friday night ranked 56th out of 60 teams in Division I college hockey with a conversion percentage of 11.4 percent.

“I know we had a power play goal and we did exactly what we wanted to do,” Trivigno said of the power play on Friday night. “Shoot the puck, get a tip and find a rebound after that. Not bad. I think we could’ve scored on a few more chances.”

The power play has been the thorn in the side of UMass ever since Cale Makar departed for the NHL after last season. Zac Jones and Del Gaizo have taken over power play quarterbacking duties on the first unit since, and for most of the season, the crew has been out of sync.

But of late, it’s begun to find a rhythm. The Minutemen had a power play goal in their last game when they were in Providence. They’ve stuck with an umbrella formation on the man-advantage but changed strategies in certain areas.

“I actually think Jack Suter is helping make the power play go,” Carvel said. “I think we’ve put John Leonard in a better spot, that better uses his ability and we’re doing some other things as a unit that we refused to do early in the year, we’re starting to do a little better. We need to continue progressing.”

Suter has become a bumper on the UMass power play. Del Gaizo’s been much more active in shooting the puck from the point. Breakouts look better, zone entries are cleaner, and the Minutemen have been much better at sustaining zone time.

Over the past few games, the power play results haven’t been there so to speak, but the chances have been.

“We went for a stretch where we weren’t scoring power play goals,” Trivigno said. “In the last couple of games, I think we had two or three which is definitely encouraging, and it shows that what we’re doing is working so stick to it.”

So even in a game as heartbreaking as Friday night’s, with the defensive breakdown in the dying minutes of the final 20, the lack of even-strength scoring with 40 shots and no wins in Lowell since 2011, there was one, big positive.

The power play. And that’s been a long time coming.

Evan Marinofsky can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @emarinofsky.