Special teams sequence shifts momentum in UMass’ win over Vermont

Minutemen score two power play goals in 27 seconds

Dylan+Nguyen%2F+Daily+Collegian

Dylan Nguyen/ Daily Collegian

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

It didn’t take long for the Massachusetts hockey team to begin pressuring Vermont goaltender Gabe Carriere, but for 10 minutes the Minutemen couldn’t find their first goal of Friday night’s contest.

One 5-on-3 power play changed that.

When Catamounts (6-21-2, 4-13-2 Hockey East) defender Carter Long went to the penalty box with 9:22 showing on the game clock, No. 10 UMass (18-10-2, 13-6-2 HEA) was able to get its first taste of special teams play. But Vermont was able to get an early clear and help burn about 30 seconds of its penalty without giving the Minutemen an offensive chance.

As soon as UMass did collect the puck in the offensive zone, it caused enough havoc around the boards to draw a second penalty and put the Catamounts in a precarious situation. They then had to fend off the strong Minutemen offense with just three defenders on the ice for over a minute of action.

The pressure proved to be too much for the Vermont defense. After cycling the puck through the offensive zone, UMass slowly collapsed the Catamounts’ triangle defense and brought both Ryan Ufko and Scott Morrow down from the blue line into more dangerous areas of the ice just inside the circle. When Morrow received the puck, he made a dangerous move in the high slot and looked for a pass down low to Josh Lopina at the side of the net. Instead, the puck caught former UMass player and current Vermont forward Philip Lagunov’s skate and deflected into the goal.

Even though Morrow didn’t think he would be the goal-scorer on the play, his lamp lighter gave the Minutemen a quick 5-on-3 goal and allowed them to preserve most of their ensuing 5-on-4 power play.

“The power play was effective … 5-on-3 we haven’t been great this year, we practiced it this week and it paid off, we scored pretty quickly,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said after the game. “That gave us a lot of confidence and a lot of momentum.”

Carvel sent his second unit on the ice for the following face off and it looked equally as impressive as the top power play group a few seconds earlier. Ufko and Morrow were swapped out for Aaron Bohlinger and Matthew Kessel and after spinning the puck around the offensive zone behind the net, Kessel got an opportunity to take a hard shot from the blue line. The laser shot found its way through traffic in front of the net and didn’t stop until it rattled the back of the net.

The power play goals were only 30 seconds apart and caused a major momentum swing in favor of the Minutemen. After 10 minutes with quality chances but no goals, UMass began scoring at will following the extra-man sequence and wound up winning the game 5-1.

Not only was the 5-on-3 important in Friday’s game, but it also gave the Minutemen confidence in the larger scope of their recent games. Against Connecticut six days prior UMass earned a 5-on-3 advantage but came up empty on the opportunity. On top of that, the Minutemen allowed a goal against them on a Huskies 5-on-3, and overall UMass struggled on special teams in that series. To get on the board early against the Catamounts and wipe away those power play struggles can be helpful for future games this season, especially as the Minutemen head into the HEA tournament and likely the NCAA tournament as well.

Confidence is an important quality to have, and UMass played with a lot of confidence in its special teams on Friday night.

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