UMass lacrosse wins special teams battle against Fairfield in season opener

Zack Hochman dominated faceoffs and added a goal for the Minutemen

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(Eva Trainer/Daily Collegian)

By Colin McCarthy, Collegian Staff

When the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team faced a two-minute penalty less than 10 seconds into the second half against Fairfield, the Minutemen (1-0, 1-0 Colonial Athletic Association) could have lost all the momentum they had fought for before the break.

Instead, UMass ran out nearly the entire man-down penalty in its offensive zone, not allowing the Stags (1-3, 0-2 CAA) to capitalize on the huge opportunity.

“That probably was for us a huge momentum swing in that game,” said head coach Greg Cannella. “It could have gone the other way, but it went our way.”

That possession was a product of strong special teams play exhibited by the Minutemen all afternoon, from the faceoff circle to man-up and man-down situations.

UMass killed off both of its penalties including the two-minute major and added a goal on one of its two man-up opportunities courtesy of a laser by Chris Connolly that found the top-right corner of the net.

“We made the extra pass on that extra-man that we scored on, we made actually two passes on a rotation” Cannella said. “And we had the same exact opportunity on the second [man-up] and Chris missed the cage.”

Connolly finished the game with a hat trick, but his man-up goal was key in continuing to build momentum for the Minutemen, something Fairfield owned for the majority of the first half.

The first major momentum shift for UMass however happened just before that goal, when Zack Hochman won a faceoff, collected the groundball and took it right down Broadway, dodging multiple defenders on the way to netting his first of the season which gave back the Gorillas the lead after they trailed for over 20 minutes.

“Those guys do a lot of dirty work,” Cannella said of his faceoff specialists. “So, whenever they score the team explodes, the guys are so happy that they had that opportunity… They’re not typical goal scorers.”

Outside of the important goal, Hochman was able to pick up right where he left off last season inside the faceoff circle. He finished 12-of-21 on draws against the Stags despite facing the new rule change to faceoffs for the first time in game action.

The new rule requires players to stand and take the draw with a neutral grip, as opposed to the kneeling motorcycle grip that Hochman and many other faceoff specialists had grown used to over the years.

Having played three games already coming into Sunday’s matchup, Fairfield was already comfortable with the change. But that didn’t stop Hochman from showing his prowess and adaptability in the circle.

“[Hochman] is an individual that the rules probably help him because he’s such a good athlete,” Cannella said. “I think there’s a lot more loose balls so it’s about the faceoff guy being able to either get his hips turned or beat somebody to a ground ball.”

Freshman Caleb Hammett helped take the load off Hochman, seeing his first three reps as a faceoff specialist and finishing his afternoon 1-of-3.

Special teams were heavily in favor of UMass against the Stags, and if that continues it will pay dividends as the season progresses.

The Minutemen return to Garber Field on Saturday to take on Drexel at 12 p.m.

Colin McCarthy can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @colinmccarth_DC.