UMass hockey: Weekend Hockey East set with UConn on tap for Minutemen

UMass forward Cole O’Hara (19) holds possession of the puck against Maine last weekend at the Mullins Center in Amherst. The Minutemen will play UConn in a home-and-home series this weekend.

UMass forward Cole O’Hara (19) holds possession of the puck against Maine last weekend at the Mullins Center in Amherst. The Minutemen will play UConn in a home-and-home series this weekend. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

By THOMAS JOHNSTON

Staff Writer

Published: 02-08-2024 4:29 PM

While the UMass hockey team’s defense has been on point in its last three games since surrendering four goals to Merrimack, the Minutemen have hit a cold spell on the offensive end of the ice. 

UMass tallied twice to knock off Northeastern and followed it up with a 3-2 win over the Warriors last Friday before being shutout against Maine, 1-0, last Saturday. 

After fixing the defense, Minutemen coach Greg Carvel said the focus this week at practice was working on finding ways to put the puck in the net as UMass prepares for a home-and-home with UConn this weekend. 

The Minutemen will head to Storrs, Conn. on Friday before facing the Huskies at the Mullins Center on Saturday. Both games are scheduled for 7 p.m. 

“It’s something that we can practice,” Carvel said of trying to produce goals. “It’s like any part of your game. If you make it important to the players, they focus on it. A month ago I told the team we weren’t good enough defensively. We needed to bear down and be a better team defensively. The last three games we haven’t given up more than two goals. Now it’s scoring. We have to be able to bury chances better than we have.”

UMass (14-7-3) has plenty of players who can put the puck in the net. Talent isn’t the problem, as evident that the Minutemen rank 18th in the country in goals per game (3.25). UMass has scored four or more goals eight times this season.

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“In the game against Maine there were two breakaways,” Carvel said. “They scored and we didn’t. That was the difference in the game. Theirs was a defenseman, ours was one of our most talented forwards. We just have to put the puck in the net. If we make it a focus in practice, put drills together and make them realize how important it is, to me as a coach, it often is enough to make a difference and find a way to score more.” 

With 10 games left on the schedule — all Hockey East contests — every outing will be important to the Minutemen’s quest to reach the NCAA Tournament. 

It could be easy to look ahead with a home-and-home against Boston College, the top team in PairWise, on the docket next weekend. But Carvel nixed that notion, saying UMass can’t look past a talented UConn team. 

“We have our hands full with UConn,” Carvel said. “We didn’t fare too well in their building last year. We have a different team this year but I know how much they have a home ice advantage in that building. We need points every game. I’m not going to worry about Boston College anytime soon. I’m a lot more worried about UConn. We have 10 games left and we need points. Every game is huge. It was frustrating to not win that game Saturday [against Maine]. I thought we were the better team but goaltending often has something to say about that.”

After the way the Huskies (12-13-2) played when they came to Amherst on Jan. 5 — a game that ended in a 3-3 tie though UConn won the shootout to earn the extra point — it’s no wonder why Carvel isn’t allowing his team to look ahead. 

UMass had its issues down in Storrs last year, falling 3-1. 

“The big difference will be playing on Friday in their building,” Carvel said. “It’s a tight rink and things happen fast. It’s a little different than our sheet. I’ve started watching their games and it’s the same coach (Mike Cavanaugh) so they play the same way. I know what to expect.” 

A big part of UMass’ play defensively has been the return of goalie Michael Hrabel from the World Junior Championships. 

The freshman stopped 34 of the 35 shots he faced against Northeastern, and made 26 saves against Merrimack. He also made 21 saves and only allowed the early breakaway goal against Maine last Saturday. 

“I have a goalie coach on purpose so I don't mess up the goalies,” Carvel said. “I don't ask them too many specific things about their game. It’s just going to be really good experience for him. That’s what he needs at his age, he needs to play and get experience. He’s been pretty consistent all year. That’s the impressive part for an 18-year-old. It’s not necessarily his performance but his attitude and how he carries himself. For an 18 year old at this level, that’s very impressive. Part of that is he’s been on the world stage a few times. Being in [Sweden] was hopefully an experience that helps him and helps our club down the stretch.”