Gregoire: What UMass needs to clean up before heading into the Semifinals

Fixing small mistakes will help the Minutemen against the River Hawks

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Maya Geer/ Daily Collegian

By Kayla Gregoire, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts hockey team’s win over Providence was a critical win for the Minutemen, moving them to the semifinals against UMass Lowell in the Hockey East tournament, but there is more to the win than just a hard-fought playoff victory.

There were both positives and negatives to the win and although UMass (20-12-2, 14-8-2 HEA) came out on top, but they will need to fix those mistakes going against a hard-to-beat River Hawks (21-9-3, 15-8-1 HEA) lineup.

Defense needs to eliminate scoring chances

Matt Murray was very strong in net on Saturday, with 45 saves after facing 47 shots, but UMass cannot lean back on the goaltender that much going forward. The Minutemen defense needs to eliminate the scoring chances that they were giving to the Friars because the River hawks will capitalize on those chances. Murray made some tough saves, and he may not always look that strong in net.

One area UMass needs to change is eliminating odd-man rushes to teams because it puts Murray in tough spots. In the game against Providence, UMass allowed two odd man rushes, but that stopped when UMass coach Greg Carvel called a timeout. He had addressed it the whole week before that game and cut down on the amount of odd-man rushes that happened in the game against Providence.

The one thing Carvel stands by is that Murray is allowed to give up two goals a game, but not three. He’s also not going to be mad if Murray steals a game for UMass, but Murray won’t be able to continuously do this if the defense is allowing over 45 shots at the goaltender.  With the experience that Murray has had over five seasons with the Minutemen, he will be the one to start every playoff game in net, but the defense needs to give him a break with shots. UMass does not want Murray to be the reason why they steal all its’ playoff games.

On the bright side, the defense will come prepared to compete with other teams using physicality, which they will need going into their game against the River Hawks. Minutemen have always prided themselves in being a more physical, defensive team and they will have to use that to their advantage against UMass Lowell.

Need to stop doing too much with the puck

When the Minutemen start to do too much with the puck on their sticks, other teams can capitalize on that. In the game against Providence, when Carvel was asked about Scott Morrow, he talked about not liking Morrow’s performance because the freshman was doing too much with the puck and overhandling it instead of cycling it through the offensive zone.

With the River Hawks being such a competitive team that is not afraid to be physical, cleaning up those small mistakes will be important going into the game. Small mistakes can give the puck away to a talented UMass Lowell team which will lead to scoring chances.

More than the top line

The depth in the Minutemen lineup has been shown in past games, but more than just the top line needs to start showing up in the playoffs. Three of the four goals scored in the Providence game were scored by the top line, with the other one being an empty net goal by a second line player, which a top line player got an assist on.

The line that consists of Bobby Trivigno, Josh Lopina, and Garrett Wait are very talented, but so are the other lines. The second line slowly has started to show more consistency and if that can stay true through the playoffs then the Minutemen will see a lot more scoring from them. Cal Kiefiuk and Reed Lebster have been the constant in the line and combined for a total of six points in the Vermont series in February, which shows that they can produce.

The bottom six has been shuffled around a lot and has seen players in and out of it, but those players are all still very capable of putting the puck on net. Towards the beginning of the season, Ryan Lautenbach and Lucas Mercuri were put on the top line with Trivigno which made them grow a lot as players and also shows that they are capable of being consistent threats.

The defense has shown multiple times that they can produce offense for UMass. Freshman like Morrow and Ryan Ufko tend to show up on the score sheet throughout games. Ufko went under the radar in the game against the Friars, being outshined by Lopina’s two goals, but he did finish with three assists, while Morrow also added an assist.

Despite only having six goals on the season, Matthew Kessel has a heavy one-timer that can get past goaltenders. Ufko and Kessel are a dangerous pair when they step on the ice and can produce offense when the Minutemen need it.

The burden of scoring cannot rest on the top line and defense alone, though. UMass is at its best when it gets multiple forward lines involved in its offense.

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