McCarthy: UMass hockey vs BU film breakdown

The good, bad and ugly of the Minutemen’s 6-4 loss to the Terriers

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

A 6-4 loss to Boston University definitely wasn’t what the Massachusetts hockey team was looking for after gaining so much momentum by sweeping Northeastern the weekend prior. But No. 9 UMass (12-7-2, 9-3-2 Hockey East) still did a lot of things right and outside of the first period it played like a dominant team.

The key difference to the game was really the Terriers’ ability to capitalize on little mistakes made by the Minutemen, and I captured a few of those in the video above. Some things went right on UMass’ goals but there’s a lot of aspects to a hockey game besides goal-scoring. I’m going to take a look at some of the other key areas below.

Special teams success

There were a surprisingly low number of penalties called in Tuesday’s game considering how physical and chippy the game got early on, but UMass definitely won the special teams battle against BU.

Each team had three chances to attack with the man advantage, but the Terriers weren’t able to generate many quality chances. The Minutemen did what they always seem to do: get the puck back onto their sticks and fire it back down the ice. UMass is so mentally sound that it doesn’t often give up easy chances when faced with a 5-on-4 against it and that showed especially on Tuesday.

On the opposite end, the Minutemen were able to convert on one of their three power plays and seemed to generate some solid chances on the other two as well. Winning the special teams battle is increasingly important in tight games and since almost every HEA matchup this season is ultra-competitive, seeing UMass win that battle even in a game it lost is an encouraging sign for the strength of the team.

Face off dominance

It’s become pretty remarkable how many different Minutemen can have strong performances in the face off circle any given game.

Josh Lopina is the clear top-dog in the circle for UMass; he took a team-high 29 face offs and won 62 percent of them. But Eric Faith also had a great night winning 83 percent of his draws and he has consistently been a force at the dot when in the lineup. On Tuesday in particular Lucas Mercuri won over 63 percent of his face offs, and although Anthony Del Gaizo and Ryan Sullivan didn’t have their best performances of the season, they also have moments of excellence taking face offs.

Having five capable centers in the lineup is a pretty valuable asset especially after what happened to the Minutemen early in the season. Even if one of the five goes down and can’t be in the lineup, the Minutemen won’t have any trouble filling that spot with another player they can trust.

Odd-man rushes are becoming normal

This is a tricky subject to tackle and I intentionally glossed over it in my film breakdown so that I could unpack it more here.

UMass has very aggressive defensemen and that’s been largely by design. Head coach Greg Carvel doesn’t restrict his backend very much and allows them to be more active in the offensive zone than most other teams.

But there are times to attack and times to hold back, and now the tricky part is getting the defensemen to figure out what the right decision is in every situation. Zac Jones was very good at that last year which helped make his and Matthew Kessel’s pairing so dominant in both zones. The Minutemen haven’t quite figured that out this season and they have to in order to cut back on the amount of odd-man rushes they allow to opposing teams.

To shine a more positive light, UMass did struggle with this exact same issue early last season and eventually cleaned up the mistakes. This is something that’s very coachable and shouldn’t hinder the Minutemen for much longer.

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