Last night was an enjoyable way to kick off the season and the new era of Massachusetts hockey as the Minutemen defeated future Hockey East foe UConn 4-1 in front of the largest opening night crowd in school history. It wasn’t the prettiest of games at times as both teams looked sloppy at times and general chippiness led to a total of 26 penalties, which really hindered the flow of the game. But a win is a win and last night should provide some confidence for the team as well as some tape for Coach Micheletto to identify the areas that need to be worked on prior to next weekend’s big tilt against Boston College.
The Minutemen came out absolutely flying from the drop of the puck and dominated play early on. UMass held an 8-1 shot advantage six minutes in when Colin Shea put home the first goal on a slap shot from the point. UMass would continue to control play until there was 9:28 left in the first and the team picked up its first of many penalties of the night. Tyler Helton would score for the Huskies on the resulting power play and it would take the Minutemen a while to regain the momentum and crisp play they had started the game with. UMass would get the lead back toward the end of the period when Branden Gracel redirected a Steven Guzzo shot, but from then on the Huskies, and especially their goaltender Garrett Bratus, did their best to stymie any attempt to widen the lead.
The score stayed 2-1 UMass until the third period when two excellent individual efforts would seal the game for the Minutemen. The first came at the start of the period when Guzzo was able to take the puck from the corner, skate to the front of the net with a Husky defender on him, and get the puck past Bratus while getting pushed down to the ice. A few minutes later Darren Rowe, making the most of his opportunity to dress as the sixth defensemen, took the puck at center ice on a UMass power play and skated through and around the four Husky players untouched to put home the final goal of the evening.
Again, not the prettiest of games, but UMass showed tremendous effort and got the win. I thought there were a number of players who did very well beyond the goalscorers. Conor Allen played tremendous last night and it makes me confident that he has a huge role to play for this team this season. He moved the puck extremely well and generated four shots. On defense I counted at least two or three blocked shots by him all the while playing physical and smart. There were a lot of UMass penalties but Allen didn’t draw a single one. Oleg Yevenko also stood out to me as playing well on defense, looking a lot more confident out there as a sophomore and still skating pretty well given his size.
Overall I thought the Conor Sheary/Mike Pereira/Troy Power line looked pretty good. Power seemed to have a tough time making the transition to the top line at first, but by the second and third periods was putting in really good shifts with his new linemates. The fourth line of Peter DeAngelo/Kevin Czepiel/Eddie Olczyk played a good share of minutes and did a great job of disrupting the Huskies’ offense.
Kevin Boyle did well, giving up just the one goal and made some key saves, especially on the penalty kill. He did look shaky at times but there were so many long stretches where he might as well been another of the 7,123 spectators that I’m guessing he had a tough time getting into a groove due to lack of action. The one obvious area where UMass must improve next week is penalties. A lot of the team’s 12 infractions came out of the after-the-whistle melees, but they simply cannot go around giving teams eight power play chances. They got away with it last night but give BC eight power play chances and you’re probably looking at least a three goal hole to climb out of. Adam Phillips, who played well otherwise, especially has to try to stay out of the box as five of the trips were his.
Overall, it was a great night at the Mullins Center. The team gave the excellent crowd and their new coach a win and have a lot to build off of as they begin their conference schedule. It was great to see so many students there, 4,200 was the number given on the radio and it seemed like a lot were making their first trip. I can’t see how they wouldn’t have enjoyed themselves enough to come back next week which has a very good chance of being a sellout when defending national champion Boston College comes to town.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Steven Guzzo
Guzzo’s production last year as a freshmen was a nice surprise, but for UMass to be successful he’ll have to continue to put the puck in the net this season. He did exactly that as it was his heads up play to drive to the net that put the game away for the Minutemen. It was also his shot that Gracel was able to tip past Bartus on the game-winning goal.
Among the over 7,000 in attendance last night was none other than former coach Toot Cahoon, who I ran into after the game. I think anyone who has been following UMass hockey knows what a classy guy Toot is and he showed that yet again by coming out to support the program and the players he brought to Amherst in the season opener. Not surprisingly, I can safely say it was the most relaxed I’ve ever seen Toot after a UMass hockey game.
Based on what I saw last night in terms of demeanor and overall leadership displayed I would pick Rocco Carzo, Joel Hanley, and Conor Allen as this year’s captains/assistant captains. We’ll see who coach Mick chooses soon.
In the Gazette’s recap, Coach Mick says “unflappable” is a word the team must learn after last night.
One small benefit of the NHL lockout is that the Bruins writers are available to cover college hockey, as is the case with the Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa covering the team and last night’s game.
Former UMass captain Mike Kostka, who won a Calder Cup last year with Norfolk, is the feature of this piece from TSN. Kostka is now with the Leafs organization.
Hockey’s Future has an excellent profile of Kevin Moore, including the story of the #freemoore campaign started before the final regular season game last March.