UMass hockey searching for 60 minutes of desperate play

  • John Leonard, left, of UMass, moves the puck against Ryan Mahshie, of RPI, Oct. 11 at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 11/14/2019 5:33:25 PM
Modified: 11/14/2019 5:33:15 PM

AMHERST — On Nov. 12, 2018, UMass rose to No. 4 in the USCHO poll, the highest position in program history at that moment.

In the year since, the Minutemen have stayed inside the top four in every poll until this week when they slid from No. 2 to No. 5. The early season rankings aren’t important in the slightest, but it’s another reason of how life is much different for UMass right now.

No one is overlooking the Minutemen, and the schools that finished in the bottom half of Hockey East last season are gearing up for their shot at the defending conference champions. That was certainly the case on Sunday when UMass fell at New Hampshire to a much hungrier Wildcats team.

“It’s the mental barrier of having the season you had last year where you start thinking that you get to show up and win. That’s not the case,” coach Greg Carvel said. “UNH was the much more desperate team, you could see that in their effort to block shots. The difference in the game was we missed two blocked shots for their two goals. ... That’s the margin right now, so we’re trying to deal with it and be more desperate going into games.”

When this year’s junior class joined the Minutemen three years ago, they were the plucky underdogs playing with no pressure. The goal was to help bring respect back to UMass hockey and that was the driving force behind last season’s success.

Now the Minutemen are expected to win every game this season and there is no room for them to have an off night. The desperation with which UMass played isn’t as easy to conjure up when facing the best shot from the other team on a nightly basis. But it’s also the exact spot this junior class was working toward when they came to Amherst.

“It’s the spot you want to be in,” Amherst native John Leonard said. “Hockey East is a really tough conference and you want everyone’s best and you want to be on the top of the standings. I love getting every team’s best every night, it’s something I look forward to.”

The challenge for the Minutemen is finding ways to revive the mentality that helped lead them to the top of Hockey East last season. It’s playing relentless hockey for 60 minutes with the intent to prove something to the other team and the rest of the country.

“We try not to focus on the other team, more focus on ourselves,” junior Oliver Chau said. “One thing we need to focus on is getting that chip back on our shoulder and get back to playing UMass hockey.”

It starts at the beginning quite literally for the Minutemen. Last season, UMass scored 48 goals in the first period and led after 20 minutes in 21 of its 41 games. This season, the Minutemen have scored in the opening period just five times in eight games and led just twice after 20 minutes.

A quick start has been a talking point for the Minutemen all season, but outside of the Oct. 19 game against Union, they haven’t put together a solid opening 20 minutes. At some point, Leonard said, the talk has to turn into action and UMass has to return to taking over games from the beginning and dictating the pace for all 60 minutes.

“We’ve been saying it for too long now that the start is the most important thing and we’ve got to come out fast, but enough’s enough with the talk, we’ve got to prove it now,” Leonard said. “We can say as much as we want inside that room when no one’s listening, but at the end of the day, it’s what happens in the first five minutes like we talk about and we need to prove it.”

Carvel said before the season that his biggest fear for this year was complacency, and it’s been something he is consistently fighting against. The Minutemen’s No. 5 ranking doesn’t help, but the coach said he hopes the team’s position in the Hockey East standings will catch his team’s attention this weekend.

UMass (6-2-0, 2-2-0 Hockey East) has a chance to move up the conference standings with a home-and-home set against Boston University (2-3-4, 1-2-3 HEA) starting on Friday in Boston. Saturday’s game is at 8 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

“It’s a constant battle that is unfortunately reinforced by polls that don’t mean anything,” Carvel said. “The only thing that matters right now is we’re in eighth place in Hockey East, we’re a .500 team in Hockey East. That’s what we are, and I’m hoping that’s a wake-up call for our guys.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.



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