Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass prepares for intense Hockey East battle against UConn

Both teams look to revive themselves coming off split weekends
Matt Skillings
Daily Collegian (2024)

The Massachusetts hockey team will return to the faceoff dot against the University of Connecticut in its weekend series Feb. 9 and 10.

The Minutemen (14-7-3, 7-5-2 Hockey East) fell 1-0 to the University of Maine at home on Saturday night following their Friday night win against Merrimack. The heated defensive battle showcased UMass’ strengths and weaknesses.

“A month ago… I told the team we’re not good enough defensively, we need to bear down and be a better defensive team. And [in] the last three or four games, we’ve not given up more than two goals,” Carvel said. “So now it’s scoring… We’ve just got to put the puck in the net.”

One month ago on Jan. 5, the Minutemen and Huskies (12-13-2, 7-9-1 HEA) took their matchup into the shootout following six goals split between the two teams and a scoreless overtime period. UMass was unable to secure a win, falling in the shootout 1-0.

Since then, the Huskies have fallen below ,500 with their most recent loss coming out of their weekend series against Providence. They succumbed to the pressure of the Friars and left their home rink with a 5-0 loss.

Regardless of struggles in weekend consistency, the Huskies sit just above the Minutemen in Hockey East standings with 22 and 23 points respectively. With only 10 games left in the season, UMass is treating these final battles as playoff games in hopes of securing a bye week in weeks to come.

“I think the big difference [against the Huskies] will be playing on Friday in their building. It’s a tight rink, things happen fast, a little different than our sheet,” Carvel said. “That’s a home ice advantage building.”

The improvements to UMass’ defense, though, has erupted largely in smaller rinks outside of the Mullins Center. For instance, Providence, Northeastern and Merrimack kept everyone tight between the boards.

Hobey Baker semifinalists Scott Morrow and captain Ryan Ufko alongside Samuli Niinisaari and Linden Alger have found ways to use small ice space to their advantage between powerful checks and key blocks.

“[UConn’s] rink is pretty hostile and nothing’s going to be given to us… It’s going to be a really physical, defensive game,” Alger said. “Being a bigger guy, I don’t mind playing in the smaller rinks. The game comes a little bit faster… Playing at Merrimack last weekend is definitely going to prepare us.”

Against Maine, the senior defenseman tallied four blocks, helping the Minutemen’s efforts to hold their opponent to one goal. Carvel said Alger’s recent success has largely come from having more minutes on the ice with sharing the back of the sheet with Ufko.

“Maine [is] a similar team to UConn. They’re a very hard time, very physical, and it’s going to be a very similar game… low-scoring,” Alger said.

Emphasizing offensive growth, though, is key to UMass’ weekend. Goalscorers early in the season, such as freshmen Jack Musa and Aydar Suniev, have been relatively quiet on the scoreboard in the second half of the season. While the sophomore forward pair of Cole O’Hara and Kenny Connors have been more noticeable players on the ice, finding themselves with the puck more often, they continue to fall wide of the net.

Another dip in goal production comes from UMass’ top line with Lucas Mercuri and Ryan Lautenbach who share the space with Suniev.

“They were scoring a lot more often in the first half, but [Lautenbach] is getting a lot of chances,” Carvel said. “He just creates chances for himself, he gets around the net, we don’t have enough guys that want to do that.”

Despite creating scoring chances, the Minutemen have struggled to plant the puck in the back of the net. In their most recent challenge against Maine, many of their shots went high up above the net, eliminating the possibility of a rebound goal opportunity.

As for the Huskies, Chase Bradley, Hudson Schandor and Matthew Wood lead them in points and have all contributed to the scoreboard within the last three games. However, only Schandor found points against UMass in the teams’ recent matchup with one goal.

The Friday night matchup is set for 7 p.m. in Storrs, Connecticut followed by Saturday’s contest at 7 p.m. in the Mullins Center where the Minutemen look to bounce back on track.

“Both teams are going to have to earn every inch [of the ice], earn every shot and every chance,” Alger said.

Sydney Ciano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @SydneyCiano.

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