UMass looking for a bounce-back weekend against AIC

Minutemen shift focus of preparation back onto themselves

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Will Katcher / Daily Collegian

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

After back-to-back losses to start its season, the Massachusetts hockey team regrouped with a heightened focus and intensity during its two weeks of preparation heading into a weekend series against budding Pioneer Valley rival American International College.

The extra time to practice is necessary for No. 9 UMass (0-2) coach Greg Carvel to reassess the areas he felt were lacking against Minnesota State, and even more necessary for the Minutemen skaters to change their mindset.

“The best thing about losing those two games is that now we have the players’ attention,” Carvel said on Tuesday. “They seem much more focused and deliberate in practice, [good] intensity, just seeing a lot of good things coming out of it.”

Two major points of emphasis for UMass during the extended preparation period were improvements in the defensive zone and on special teams. The Minutemen’s inconsistent play in those phases hindered them in their first two games, but typically they have been strong points and given UMass an identity that it is working towards.

“We’ve been focusing a lot on our details and discipline … and most of that has to do with our defense and staying above other players, just basically being harder to play against,” defenseman Matthew Kessel said. “So just getting back to our game, that’s when things should go our way.”

Attacking the power play struggles requires a level of detail and discipline as well, but also requires the Minutemen to take a step back and not try to get too fancy with the puck. Last year Carson Gicewicz and Josh Lopina lived on the crease and got messy goals. Gicewicz is no longer at UMass, but Lopina has already seen success on the crease this season.

“It’s just keeping it simple, getting pucks to the net and getting rebounds,” captain Bobby Trivigno said of the powerplay unit. “It doesn’t have to be a pretty goal necessarily, we just need to get a puck in the net.

The Minutemen had a month to prepare for Minnesota State, and saw plenty of film on the Mavericks in preparation of that matchup. Now, even with nearly two full weeks of practice ahead of its matchup with the No. 20 Yellowjackets (0-1), UMass is putting all the focus on itself and how it can improve, rather than doing a lengthy film study of AIC.

“It’s definitely more about us … I made a comment to the team that I shouldn’t even bother doing a pre-scout of the opponent until I feel like we’re at a place where we’re supposed to be,” Carvel said. “If we’re not playing to the way we’re capable of then I’m not concerned about the other team, I’m way more concerned about our team.”

For the Minutemen that means film study this week focused more on watching back their games against Minnesota State. Addressing the errors made and working through them one step at a time in practice, making sure those same mistakes don’t continue to show up on the ice.

“Anything that happens that early in the season is just a learning curve,” Matt Murray said. “That’s the way we’ve approached it, just learning from your mistakes, learn what we need to do to get better, and from then on it’s been 100 percent work ethic and making sure we’re close as a team on and off the ice.”

UMass will need to be operating at 100 percent heading into another tough matchup against AIC. Lately the Minutemen and Yellowjackets have developed a rivalry within western Massachusetts, giving higher stakes to the weekend series.

“I think it’s a great series and I think [AIC coach Eric Lang] feels the same,” Carvel said. “It used to be just one game a year, now we both want to play two games a year, so hopefully we play home-and-home going forward because it’s good competition and it’s good for the area.”

UMass kicks off its home-and-home series at AIC on Friday before returning to Amherst on Saturday night at 7 p.m.

Colin McCarthy can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @colinmccarth_DC.