Special teams prove to be a key factor in UMass’ win against AIC

Minutemen went 6-for-6 on the penalty kill

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Nina Walat/ Daily Collegian

By Kayla Gregoire, Collegian Correspondent

SPRINGFIELD — The Massachusetts hockey team found its first win on Friday night, with the special teams units operating at a high level against American International College.

In the nearly two weeks between games, the Minutemen (1-2) had a lot of time to practice their special teams. Out of UMass’ five goals of the game, two of them came from the power play unit, where they went 2-for-3 on their extra-man opportunities.

“[Special teams is] huge , we get 2 power play goals early and had to kill part of a five-minute major,” head coach Greg Carvel said after the game.

Less than a minute into the first period the Minutemen drew a penalty against the Yellow Jackets (0-2), which was proved costly for AIC. In just 14 seconds of the power play, freshman Ryan Ufko slapped the puck over to Aaron Bohlinger who found Reed Lebster. Lebster finished in tight to give UMass a 1-0 lead.

Shortly after the goal by Lebster, a penalty was called on Yellow Jacket Justin Cole to send UMass to another power play. Again, the Minutemen took no time in scoring 5-on-4. Right off the faceoff, freshman Scott Morrow shot a pass over to captain Bobby Trivigno, who then passed it to Josh Lopina who was able to hit it right into the net of Yellow Jackets goalie, Jake Kucharski.

“It’s all chemistry, it’s all knowing where guys are going to be, it’s set plays, so we had that set play there on my goal,” Lopina said of the power play unit’s success. “It’s just working on it, getting comfortable with the guys on the powerplay, so chemistry is there and that’s a big part of the power play.”

Lopina did not just show up on the score sheet, but also on the penalty kill.  While down a man, Lopina fought off the Yellow Jacket’s offense by himself for about 20 seconds of AIC’s powerplay, leading to an easy penalty kill.

UMass’ powerplay unit was playing at its best, but as a whole its penalty kill unit was equally just as good. In 23 minutes spent man-down, the Minutemen rejected the Yellow Jackets of any goals, going 6-for-6 in their penalty kill.

“[Special teams is] great, every year I’ve been here our penalty kill has been phenomenal, that’s something that we really stress is to have a top of the league penalty kill because it’s those kinds of special teams that win games,” goaltender Matt Murray said. “I thought they were great tonight, I thought they limited chances and did what they need to do.”

The Minutemen were strong at killing off penalties, but they also had scoring chances on the penally kills. Winger Anthony Del Gaizo and center Lucas Mercuri had a huge scoring chance on the breakaway in the third period but came up just short. Having a penalty killing unit that can not only limit chances defensively but also apply pressure in the offensive zone is uplifting for the group as a whole.

“Special teams needed to be special, and I thought they were tonight, they were the difference,” Carvel said.

Kayla Gregoire can be reached at [email protected] and followed on twitter @kaygregoire.