Marinofsky: Why UMass needed a weekend series like this one against Vermont

UMass outscored UVM 8-1 over the two games

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Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Evan Marinofsky, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts hockey team had inconsistent results heading into this weekend’s series with Vermont.

Through six games, No. 10 UMass struggled to find its footing. It wasn’t so much a surprise to see the Minutemen begin the season with some growing pains, but to see two mediocre performances against Merrimack was not what most expected from UMass.

So, with all said and done for the Minutemen from their two wins over the Catamounts Saturday and Sunday, there is one main takeaway.

They needed this. They needed this badly, and it started with not having games last weekend.

“It gave us a chance to really reset and really have some discussions and practice time and really impress upon the players what we needed to do to create an identity. I don’t think we really created one through the first six games,” UMass head coach Greg Carvel said of his team’s identity after the 4-1 win on Sunday night. “After last night, it felt like it was starting to grow, and I thought we did a good job tonight continuing with that.”

Beating Vermont twice was not a statement for UMass. It’s not like UMass walked into Conte Forum and beat Boston College convincingly or the Minutemen steamrolled UMass Lowell over a weekend series.

Remember when UMass took down then-No. 1 Ohio State to begin the 2018-19 season? Yeah, this is far from that.

It’s Vermont. No disrespect at all – beating the Catamounts twice is a good thing. They’re a program with a brand-new coach and looking to have a UMass-like rise to the top of Hockey East.

“The way he’s built this program, I think from even what he did in St. Lawrence and then for when he came into UMass and seeing what he’s built here, that’s actually the blueprint that we want to have, and that’s something we talk about internally and even to our players,” Vermont head coach Todd Woodcroft said of Carvel’s job as UMass bench boss. “This is the level that we want to get to.”

Still, these were the first two games of Vermont’s season. By comparison, Saturday and Sunday were games No. 7 and 8 for UMass. In the preseason coaches’ poll, the Catamounts were picked to finish last.

But the one thing UMass didn’t get the luxury of having to begin this season were some “point night” kind of games. You know the games I’m talking about. Last year, the Minutemen had Union to beat up on. They outscored them 11-1 over two games in late October. In 2018-19, it was opening the season against the Royal Military College of Canada (6-1 win) and then stomping all over RPI for two straight nights.

Due to COVID-19’s impact on this season, UMass can only schedule Hockey East opponents. One brilliant thing about Hockey East is there aren’t any “easy” opponents. Merrimack and Vermont have consistently been near the basement the past couple of seasons and even they typically put forth close games. It’s what makes the conference arguably the best in college hockey.

The downside is there isn’t many easy games.

But given the state of Vermont – new coach, new starting goalie, young roster – that’s ultimately what they were for UMass this past weekend.

The Minutemen dominated five of the six periods over the two games. The only period the Catamounts put serious pressure on the Minutemen was the third frame of Sunday night’s 4-1 loss. In those final 20 minutes, Vermont attempted 27 shots while only 10 got to the net.

For the rest of the series, it was all UMass.

UMass outscored UVM 8-1 over the two games. The Minutemen outshot the Catamounts 67-33 during the weekend. Even when Vermont had a five-minute power play in Game 1, UMass still found a way to gain momentum and mostly dominate.

The most important thing for the Minutemen was they got scoring all over the lineup in both games. They had six different goal-scorers and 13 different guys register a point. Saturday night was about the 5-on-5 scoring and two shorthanded goals (one was an empty-netter). Sunday night was about power play success.

Another added bonus was Matt Murray continued to own the net for the Minutemen, which is along the lines of what Carvel wanted. He’s never stated a preference when it comes to Murray and Filip Lindberg, but at least someone seems to have taken over. The unfortunate aspect for the Minutemen is one of the reasons Murray has taken over the net is due to Lindberg sidelined a few weeks with an injury, according to Carvel.

Nevertheless, UMass used this weekend the right way. They dominated, racked up a bunch of points and stayed steady in net.

Did the Minutemen just take down the No. 1 team in the nation? No.

But they got a lot closer to finding consistency and what their identity will ultimately be.

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