Film breakdown: Analyzing UMass’ power play unit

When operating at a high level, the power play is one of the Minutemen’s biggest strengths

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Maya Geer/ Daily Collegian

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts hockey team’s power play unit hasn’t been a consistent force all season, partly due to it missing key players and not having a consistent first and second unit. But when it’s operating at its best, No. 14 UMass (10-6-2, 7-2-2 Hockey East) can generate a lot of scoring on the extra-man attack.

The latest iteration of the top unit is made up of Bobby Trivigno, Josh Lopina, Reed Lebster, Ryan Ufko and Scott Morrow. Being that those are five of the Minutemen’s top six leading scorers, that tandem is poised for a lot of success. Ufko and Morrow are both threats to score and add strong ice vision to find open passing lanes. For the forwards, Trivigno has a lethal one-timer from the right circle, Lebster plays well on the bumper and in front of the net and Lopina causes problems for opposing goaltenders with a large crease presence, generating goals off rebounds and loose pucks.

Those five on the ice together should be able to expose opposing penalty killing units and get some scoring that UMass needs. I’m here to take a look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Minutemen power play in the 2021-22 season thus far.

Clean zone entry is priority No. 1

The best way to start strong on the power play is with a clean entry into the offensive zone, and in UMass’ series against Michigan getting those entries consistently was easier said than done. But the nature of the Minutemen’s extra-attacking unit is led by defensemen, meaning that zone entries usually involve Morrow or Ufko carrying the puck through the neutral zone and either retaining possession across the blue line or passing it off to one of the forwards late.

UMass typically sees a lot of success in this strategy, but when not executed properly it can cause high-danger chances the other way. Wolverine Jonny Beecher capitalized on the aggressive defensive breakout, stealing the puck at his own blue line and speeding down the ice for a breakaway attempt that luckily for the Minutemen was stuffed by Matt Murray.

UMass has to take good care of the puck in the neutral zone to avoid giving up chances to shorthanded opponents.

A perfect example of the extra-man unit playing to its strengths

Remember what I said earlier about Ufko and Morrow’s vision and scoring threat along with Trivigno’s lethal one-timer? Well, this play captures all of those things perfectly.

It kicks off with a subtle but nice drop pass from Ufko to Morrow. Ufko could have easily carried this puck back towards the center of the zone, but he realized the BU defender over-committed to him, caught Morrow with a better chance to threaten the net and dished it off to him instead. Morrow carried the puck and made a move down low, drawing attention of defenders as well as goaltender Drew Commesso, because even though he had a low angle, he’s talented enough to turn that into a dangerous scoring chance.

But rather than go for a shot, Morrow sent a backhanded pass directly to Trivigno’s stick, and the captain fired home a goal with ease since he had a wide open net to shoot at. That kind of play is exactly what makes the Minutemen so dangerous with an extra skater and they can continue to find plays like these in future games.

Relentless pressure yields results

Establishing a net presence in the offensive zone generally can win or lose games for UMass on any given night, but the importance of getting bodies in front is heightened on the power play, and Garrett Wait’s goal against Merrimack is a perfect example of that.

That goal was created in a completely different way than Trivigno’s power play goal. The initial play was a clean set up with Trivigno finding Lebster’s stick in front of the net. Lebster could have and maybe should have attempted a shot on goal, but instead found Ufko for possibly an even better chance.

Ufko’s initial attempt was stuffed but the Minutemen kept the pressure on. Lebster got another crack at the loose puck and eventually Wait got a hold of the puck and buried it. The important piece wasn’t the final goal-scorer, but rather the number of players UMass pressured with and the number of chances it generated as a result. Other than Kessel who operated as a safety valve in case the Warriors emerged from the pile with the puck on their stick, all four of the other UMass skaters were within five feet of the net stabbing at the puck with their sticks.

All three of the above plays show that when the Minutemen protect the puck and play to their strengths on the power play they have the ability to be a lethal combination on the power play, and continuing to rely on Ufko and Morrow to kickstart the offensive zone action should be a recipe for success down the stretch this season.

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