Gregoire: UMass’ series against Vermont important for Confidence and HEA standings

The confidence gained will help the Minutemen going into the NCAA tournament

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Maya Geer/ Daily Collegian

By Kayla Gregoire, Collegian Staff

Coming into its series against Vermont, the Massachusetts hockey team knew how important the weekend was for positioning in the Hockey East standings.

When the No.10 Minutemen (19-10-2,10-7-0 HEA) stepped onto the ice on Friday night against the Catamounts (6-24-2, 4-16-2 HEA) they were tied for first in the HEA standing with UMass Lowell. When they stepped off the ice on Saturday, they walked away knowing they hold sole possession of first place in the conference.

One of the things that UMass head coach Greg Carvel will never do is answer a question about being a better team than whatever team the Minutemen are taking on in the week. Going into the series he knew that the Catamounts had a losing record, but also know that hockey games are unpredictable.

Carvel went into the series with the same mindset as any other series and it paid off for his team in the long run.

Other than the HEA standings, what did the Minutemen take out of the series? One of the biggest things was confidence and seeing players that haven’t been difference makers start to make positive contributions on the ice.

The second line’s confidence

The line that consists of Cal Kiefiuk, Eric Faith, and Reed Lebster has not been a huge factor in recent games, but in the series against Vermont they were one of the biggest factors in the offensive zone.

Coming into the game on Friday night, the line was bumped down to the third line due to their past performances. With the confidence they showed on Friday night, they were moved back to where they have been all season on the second line.

Lebster added two goals and an assist in the series, which is what Carvel knew he was capable of doing, but he has not been able to do all season. Before the series, Lebster only had five goals on the season with his last being against Merrimack on Jan. 3.

Kiefiuk also had a goal and an assist in the series with both coming on Saturday night and was an important part of the game anytime he stepped on the ice. He created odd man rushes and continued to give the Minutemen chances.

Faith also added shots on goal during the series and created chances for UMass, and with the way the group played as a whole it would not be surprising to see them on the ice more often going into the NCAA tournament.

Wanting more than just the first line to add to the score sheet

Carvel has said before that he needs more than just Bobby Trivigno, Josh Lopina, and Garrett Wait to score in games. In the Vermont series, a lot more scoring depth was shown from the forward lines and defensemen.

Defensemen typically have not been the names to show up on the score sheet for UMass, but out of the 13 goals that were scored in the series, six of the goals came from blue-liners.

The Minutemen defensemen have prided themselves in having a two-way game with the puck, but in games this season defensemen have been seen inconsistent success in the offensive zone.

Scott Morrow was one of the offensive defensemen to add goals for UMass each night, but he went on a surprising goal drought. With the lack of scoring from Morrow prior to the weekend, most games defensemen could not add a goal to the score sheet. Morrow added two goals in the series, adding to his already impressive rookie season.

Not only did Morrow score but so did Matthew Kessel with two goals and Ufko and Bohlinger each with one goal. This shows that the Minutemen defensemen can continue to be a factor on both sides of the puck going into the last two games of the season and in the NCAA tournament.

Special teams continue to be special

The Minutemen have been put into many 5-on-3 situations in recent games, so Carvel made sure to make that a focus in practice for the players this week and it paid off for them. On Friday night UMass scored two goals when they were put on the 5-on-3 which became very important for them in the game.

Then on Saturday night, the Minutemen were put on four powerplays in the game and scored on all of them. The power play unit was a large part of the game for the Minutemen and has continued to be a bright spot for them in the season.

On the penalty kill, special teams were eliminating chances from the Catamounts and even creating odd man rushes when down a man. Kiefiuk and Trivigno both almost added a goal in the odd man rush while down a man but came up empty.

Giving Luke Pavicich experience

Matt Murray has started all but one game for UMass, but in the Vermont series, in the last few minutes of the game, Carvel opted to put Pavicich in net to allow for both Carvel and Pavicich to gain confidence in the goaltender.

Despite allowing one goal in on Saturday night, Pavicich looked solid in net for the Minutemen. This move gave Murray a little bit of rest while simultaneously allowing the Minutemen to gain comfort with their future goaltender by playing a few more minutes this season before Pavicich takes on a much larger role next year and beyond.

Kayla Gregoire can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Kaygregoire.