Inexperience on defense hinders UMass in loss to Boston University

Bohlinger’s absence creates hole in Minutemen backend

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Dylan Nguyen/ Daily Collegian (2022)

By Colin McCarthy, Video Editor

BOSTON — Luke Pavicich was able to stop the bleeding for a little while, but even after 20 minutes, it was clear that the Massachusetts hockey team had no answer for Boston University’s high-powered offense.

The No. 7 Terriers (14-6-0, 9-4-0 Hockey East) are a team built on experience and speed, especially within their forward group. Inversely, the No. 19 Minutemen (9-9-3, 3-7-1 HEA) lack speed in the backend. And with Aaron Bohlinger battling an injury suffered against BC, there’s also a significant experience gap within the lineup. Those two things crushed UMass on Wednesday night.

Slicing through the offensive zone with ease, BU scored four first period goals and went on to beat the Minutemen 6-2.

“I thought our forwards played a heavy game tonight,” Terriers coach Jay Pandolfo said. “I thought we were really hard on the puck, when we didn’t have the puck we fought to get it back, so I think that was a big reason for our success.”

Owen Murray has potential to become a talented two-way defenseman for UMass, but as it stands he is the least experienced blue-liner in the lineup, and it’s showing in his own defensive zone. He was on the ice for three of the Terriers’ goals, and struggled to contain the larger, faster forwards in BU’s lineup.

“They play fast and they’re a big, heavy team,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said of BU. “It’s tough to defend and I think we really got exposed tonight.”

Although Murray appeared to be tripped on one of the goals that he allowed, that one play wasn’t enough to cover for a poor overall performance. Carvel paired him with Ryan Ufko, possibly in an effort to minimize Murray’s mistakes, but it didn’t matter at the end of the night. Murray did have one goal-saving defensive play when he broke up a pass to the back post that Pavicich couldn’t cover. But that play only happened because Murray was initially out of position, so he was essentially covering up for his own mistake.

Murray was one of three freshmen suiting up for the Minutemen on Wednesday, and none of the six defenders have been at UMass longer than two years. By number of college hockey games played, Elliot McDermott is the Minutemen’s biggest veteran presence, but he just transferred from Colgate prior to this season. That makes sophomores Ryan Ufko and Scott Morrow the longest tenured Minutemen defenders.

“We dressed three freshman defenseman and that exposes us a bit,” Carvel said. “I thought that was a big part of the case tonight.”

That skill gap is extremely significant, especially when considering how much better UMass’ defense played at the beginning of the year. When Linden Alger and Aaron Bohlinger were both healthy, Noah Ellis was the only freshman seeing consistent ice time, and he was playing well alongside his more experienced counterparts.

A shift happened once Alger went down with a long-term leg injury. Suddenly Carvel was rolling out a pair of freshmen in the backend consistently, and on any night that one of his more experienced players couldn’t play, like Bohlinger on Wednesday night, that shifted things even more.

“It’s hard [playing without Bohlinger],” Carvel said. “Last year Ufko and Morrow were freshmen but really good players, this year our [freshmen] this year are more journeyman type and that’s tough, especially when you have to play with two of them together.”

On another night, the Minutemen might have been able to cover some of that inexperience up with its veteran forwards. But Wednesday was not that night.

Seniors who are normally very noticeable in the defensive zone, like Eric Faith, Matt Koopman and Jerry Harding, were either nonexistent, or stuck out in the worst ways. Faith was in position to make a defensive stop on the Terriers’ first goal of the night, but instead he fell over and allowed Wilmer Skoog a wide open a lane to shoot on Pavicich.

Wednesday was a night to forget for UMass. Getting outshot 47-19 and allowing six goals reflects poorly on the defense as a whole, which desperately needs to get healthy. Bohlinger brings some stability to that, and if Alger can return before the end of the season that will add more experience as well.

The Minutemen’s identity has been defense first since Carvel got to town, and they need to get back to that soon. Time is running out on an NCAA tournament bid.

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