Lethargic play, injuries led UMass to Friday’s defeat

‘We looked sluggish’

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Collegian File Photo/Daily Collegian

By Liam Flaherty, Assistant Sports Editor

HARTFORD, CT– For the second time in seven days, the Massachusetts hockey team lost a game in the final 30 seconds. Even worse, it did so yet again after blowing a lead late in the final frame.

But while the score was finalized with less than a minute to play, the outcome was ultimately decided long beforehand when the Minutemen (19-11-2, 12-8-2 Hockey East) first hit the ice.

Against Connecticut at the XL Center, with a handful of players sidelined for the Friday night affair, No. 8 UMass didn’t compete with enough energy and opened itself up to another late loss, which the Huskies (15-13-4, 12-8-2 HEA) took advantage of, scoring twice in the final seconds.

“We got what we deserved tonight,” Carvel said.

The Minutemen finished the night with 23 shots, while UConn, winner of six of seven, got off 38. Simply put, they were outplayed by a hot team.

“We looked sluggish,” he said. “A big part of that is the opposition but we just didn’t have a lot of energy tonight. So, we will have to reset, and we usually find a way to be better on Saturday nights, especially in our rink.”

A clear example of the lack of energy was the overall ineffectiveness of the UMass forecheck.

“They’re a big team,” Carvel said after the 3-2 loss, which dropped UMass into third place behind UConn. “They had good puck possession and we didn’t get in on the forecheck very well to create much. Once we got possession, the o-zone wasn’t bad, but we didn’t have a lot of o-zone tonight.”

Even with the overall lackluster offensive performance, the Minutemen held a late 2-1 lead thanks to a pair of goals from John Leonard, who has  now scored five of their previous seven goals.

But with injuries plaguing the entire roster and only No. 9 lighting the lamp, it wasn’t enough.

“We’re a beat-up team,” Carvel said. “We’re missing Chaffee, we lost Davidson halfway through the game, Lagunov, Kiefiuk, it feels like half our team’s done for the year, so we’re digging deep. Luckily, we’ve got John Leonard. Scores just about every one of our goals, but an inexcusable way to give up a game late.”

And although Leonard did what he could in the scoring department, he was also out on the ice during the late breakdown and lack of structure that Carvel spoke about, which led Kale Howarth to catapult the crowd of 6,666 into frenzy mode.

“[Leonard’s] a highly effective player,” Carvel added. “He’s playing well right now, but he’s one of the guys that was on the ice at the end and he’s one of the five guys that lost his structure, lost his man, so it’s all five guys that were on the ice that are responsible for that. Ultimately, if the goalie can pick up for the other five guys, but that wasn’t the case.”

In the end, although it was the five guys on the ice that allowed UMass’ fatal miscue in final minute, it all goes back to the lethargic play of all 22 players.

“It’s a team-wide thing,” Carvel said. “This is down to every individual guy. You’re trying to solve the game away, I think they scored a minute and a half left and then seven seconds left, you can’t for the last two minutes of a game decide you’re just not going to play really hard and stay on the inside of your guy and don’t take chances and just be smart. That’s frustrating. UConn played hard, they deserved to win. We didn’t play well enough to get the two points. It would’ve been stealing a game tonight.”

The teams reconvene in Amherst on Saturday night where another two points are in the line and the stretch run continues. Puck drop is set for 8 p.m.

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