UMass looking to turn the corner starting Sunday against New Hampshire

“We have a lot of issues that are really correctable”

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Dylan Nguyen/ Daily Collegian (2022)

By Colin McCarthy, Video Editor

The clock is ticking for the Massachusetts hockey team. There’s still a clear path to the postseason, but from this point forward, every single game is important. No. 19 UMass (9-9-3, 3-7-1 Hockey East) needs to start racking up wins.

That starts on Sunday against New Hampshire in an afternoon matchup. UNH (6-16-1, 1-11-1 HEA) has struggled a lot this season but is coming off a key road win against No. 11 Providence.

“[I’m expecting] an improved team … they’re playing very good hockey right now,” head coach Greg Carvel said of the Wildcats. “When we went into their building they steamrolled us the first period, we got through it and started playing the second two periods.”

“We need to be ready for a hungry team and we need to be a hungry team.”

 UMass can’t afford to be anything but a hungry team. It sits at No. 23 in Pairwise which is not good enough to earn an NCAA tournament bid. Within HEA, the Minutemen are ranked No. 8 of 11 teams, so as it stands, they would be playing in the preliminary round of the conference tournament and would not host a quarterfinal matchup.

“I don’t look at the standings because it makes me cry,” Carvel said half-jokingly. “We just have to play good hockey and the standings will take care of itself … you got to work towards playing your best hockey at the end of the year, that’s our focus.”

All of this can change very quickly towards the end of the season. UMass is through the top heavy portion of its schedule, and UConn is the most challenging opponent left during the regular season. By the time March rolls around, the Minutemen could settle back into the top-five of HEA and be on track to make a run in the conference tournament.

In order to do that, though, they need to turn the corner. UMass is aware of the problems its facing and believes a lot of its wounds are self-inflicted. The last part of the schedule is all about fixing those mistakes.

“I’m expecting us to play much better, we have a lot of issues that are really correctable,” defenseman Scott Morrow said. “At our best we have a really high ceiling and when we don’t play the right way and do the things we’re supposed to do we have a really low floor. I think we’ve started to realize that, and I expect our guys to buy in and really play the right way.”

The biggest emphasis Carvel is preaching right now is defense. He made it clear that the freshmen need to be doing a better job and focusing on defense first. Scott Morrow and Ryan Ufko are talented on both sides of the puck, and they handle a lot of the offense from the blue line. That’s their role, but Kennedy O’Connor, Noah Ellis and Owen Murray are not expected to follow suit with that.

In fact, Carvel is encouraging them not to try and play the game the way Ufko and Morrow do.

“They can’t do what Scott and Ryan do. Scott and Ryan have 15 to 20 points,” Carvel said. “They’re not the same caliber of player, so they can’t play the same game. We want them to add in offensively, but not until they know how to play the game defensively.”

Getting the freshmen up to the standard defensively will go a long way, but equally important will be getting the defensive core back to full strength. Both Aaron Bohlinger and Linden Alger are out of the lineup currently with varying timetables. Alger skated for the first time on Friday after suffering a serious leg injury early in the season, while Bohlinger is still working his way back from an injury suffered on Jan. 7 against BC.

Those juniors make a major impact on the ice, particularly in taking the strain off the freshmen defenders. The Minutemen have only played seven games all season with their backend at full strength, and they are 5-2 in those games. Notably, two of those wins came against Denver, who remains one of UMass’ toughest matchups of the season.

The Minutemen were at their best when they had five experienced defensemen in the lineup and two freshmen — one on the third pairing and the other as an extra skater. If Alger and Bohlinger can both return to the lineup soon, that will be a big step in the right direction for UMass as a whole.

Outside of that, it’s all about getting back to its game and taking everything one game at a time. The Minutemen believe they’re still a threat, but they also know they can’t prove that if they get too caught up in the big picture. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

“The most important thing for us is falling back on what makes us successful,” senior captain Eric Faith said. “We’re doing a lot of stuff that’s hurting us and resulting in goals for the other team, so if we clean that up we should put ourselves in a better position.”

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