By: Chris Picher
The University of Massachusetts hockey team is undoubtedly in a transition period on the heels of several underperforming seasons and the arrival of new coach Greg Carvel last offseason.
UMass went 20-61-10 in the last four seasons in Hockey East under former coach John Micheletto. Carvel needs some leeway and time to reign in new players at UMass, but they have been a slightly more competitive team in 2016. UMass enters Saturday’s contest 5-14-2 with five points in 10 league games.
UMass played some top opponents in the non-conference schedule featuring away games against Quinnipiac and Minnesota as well as a date in Ireland with St. Lawrence, Carvel’s former team. Their best wins this year include victories against Notre Dame and Army at home and on the road against Merrimack.
Despite the change behind the bench, scoring continues to haunt the Minutemen who are in the bottom five in the nation in goals, scoring just 2.05 per game. In their last eight games UMass has just nine goals with their only win in that span against Alabama-Huntsville.
Defensively for UMass, there has been noticeable improvement under Carvel. Last year in Hockey East play they allowed 4.6 goals per game and through the first 21 games of this season that number is down to 3.3 per game. In between the pipes for UMass has been the freshman net-minder Ryan Wischow who is 3-9-2 with a .909 save percentage and 2.71 goals against average. Wischow has earned the starting job with 16 starts to just five for sophomore Nic Renyard. Renyard started in 22 games last year, including a heroic 46-save performance against Boston University the last time the two teams played.
Offensively, UMass lacks a strong top line or a group of players that can consistently generate offense for the Minutemen. Those flaws will be exposed if the scoring woes continue as UMass faces Boston University’s stout defense at Fenway followed by games against UMass-Lowell and Boston College.
Austin Plevy is tied for the team lead in both goals (5) and points (12). Four of his tallies have come in league play where he has been very efficient on the power-play with three goals. Plevy has helped kick-start a much improved power play unit, which operates in Hockey East play at just over 15 percent – good enough for 6th in the league.
The penalty kill in conference is very inconsistent with a kill-rate of just 76.7 percent, but the Minutemen’s discipline in league has masked their inefficient numbers as the team averages just over 10 PIM per game.
UMass will have to keep the game against fifth-ranked BU low-scoring and rely on strong play in the crease from Wischow if they have any chance for a massive upset at Fenway. The Minutemen offensive attack hasn’t proven to be dynamic enough to put up big numbers against BU, but under potentially unpredictable ice conditions anything is possible.