McCarthy: Takeaways from UMass’ tough series against Michigan

Minutemen struggle to compete with talented Wolverines lineup

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Chris Tucci/ UMass Athletics

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

Being outscored 8-3 is not a great look for a top-10 team in the country, and there will be a lot of points of emphasis for the Massachusetts hockey team as it moves forward from a rough series against Michigan. Here are my main takeaways from the weekend:

Offense couldn’t get anything going

Getting pucks to the front of the net has been the key to No. 10 UMass’ (10-6-2, 7-2-2 Hockey East) scoring this season, and it didn’t do enough of that against the No. 6 Wolverines (16-6-1, 7-5-0 Big Ten). The Minutemen only put 30 shots on goal on Sunday, and even less than that the night prior. Michigan controlled the front of its crease and didn’t allow UMass any second chance opportunities which nullified a great deal of its attack.

The few goals the Minutemen did score were mainly individual efforts. Ryan Ufko scored late in Sunday’s game with a nice toe-drag to create space, and prior to that Bobby Trivigno drove the net with no other UMass player in the vicinity and potted one by himself. While the plays were great, the Minutemen cannot rely on individuals to score, they need to swarm the net and generate scoring as a unit.

Too many defensive breakdowns

In the opening minute of the series, it looked like the UMass defense would struggle against the Wolverines, and it did for a majority of the weekend. A lapse in judgement by Ty Farmer allowed Michigan to open the scoring on Saturday. Farmer seemed hesitant to contest a shot by Brendan Brisson, unsure whether to block it with his body or try and poke it free. Instead, he did neither and allowed Brisson to send a blistering shot past Murray.

 

After looking strong against Merrimack, the defensive pairing of Farmer and Scott Morrow stood out in a bad way against the Wolverines. They each turned the puck over in their defensive zone directly leading to Michigan goals and didn’t contribute any offense to make up for it.

As a whole the Minutemen defense gave up far too many odd-man rushes. They were trying to make positive contributions in the offensive zone but pinched down too far and let the Wolverines use their speed to generate quality scoring chances. Although Matt Murray played an outstanding series, he was hung out to dry far too often by his backend.

Minutemen couldn’t contain Michigan’s top line

Though officially listed as the Wolverines’ second line, Kent Johnson, Matty Beniers and Brendan Brisson are by all accounts the top forward unit for Michigan. And that trio combined for five of the eight goals scored over the weekend, and of the three scored by other lines, two were empty net goals.

That trio is obviously very talented, but for a team that prides itself on its defense, it is concerning that UMass didn’t seem to have an answer for them. All three sliced through the Minutemen with ease, creating an overwhelming number of scoring chances. UMass’ backend has to be able to shut down tough competition like the Wolverines in order to make another deep playoff run.

Silver lining: penalty kill was a positive for UMass

The Minutemen didn’t need to kill many penalties over the weekend, but every time the penalty killing unit stepped on the ice it performed at a high level. Michigan’s extra-man attack has a lot of star power, but that didn’t seem to matter. In settled moments in its defensive zone UMass did a good job clearing away pucks and using active sticks to break up solid chances for the Wolverines. And Murray played a huge role in killing off penalties as well, swallowing up a few great opportunities.

The icing on the cake for the penalty kill was Trivigno’s shorthanded goal. Finishing the weekend with more goals while down a man than Michigan had on the power play is a testament to the Minutemen’s special teams performance.

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