I mentioned in my preview that yesterday’s game against the Friars could end up telling us a lot about this team as they moved on from the grueling conference schedule that started the season to a period where they’ll be facing teams they’ll likely be challenging for slots in the Hockey East standings. If last night is any indication, this team is very capable of beating those middle of the pack teams as the Minutemen absolutely dominated Providence, shutting them out by a 4-0 score.
I’m sure Coach Micheletto would say otherwise, but from my standpoint there is literally nothing about last night’s game that I can point to as an area that needs improvement. It was probably the most complete game the team has played in quite some time. UMass scored goals on the power play, at even strength, and shorthanded. Junior Mike Pereira broke out of his early season slump by scoring a goal and registering two assists. UMass almost doubled up the Friars on faceoffs, 42-24. The power play converted on one of their four chances and generated 11 total shots on the advantage. Despite some cheap hits by the Friars the Minutemen kept their cool and were not goaded into taking additional penalties. The Friars went 0 for four on their power play chances. Kevin Boyle got his first career shutout. Though Boyle deserves credit for keeping the puck out of the net, the defense was spectacular, holding the Friars to just 17 total shots, including just nine total in the first and third periods.
The defense really was the star in this game. He made all the saves he needed to, but Boyle had one of the easier shutouts you’ll see because very few shots ever made it through to him and the ones that did were from bad angles or had very little to shoot at. The UMass defensemen were on top of the Friar skaters as soon as they crossed into the offensive zone, attacking the forwards and shutting down passing lanes. I’ve thought the defense as a whole has looked much improved so far this season, but the mistakes they’ve made have usually led to opponent goals. Last night they were mistake free.
Offensively the team looked good too. The first period was was a lot like the game against UNH where it looked like the teams were just feeling each other out. In the second period UMass poured it on the Providence defense and freshman goaltender John Gillies. Pereira picked up his first goal of the season by grabbing a Shane Walsh pass and attacking the the net. Colin Shea would make it 2-0 by joining Troy Power on a shorthanded rush and sniping a goal high past Gillies. Branden Gracel scored the third by making a nice pass to Pereira in the slot from behind the net and then putting home the resulting rebound. Troy Power would cap off his second multi-point game in a row with a goal late in the third.
Though last night was filled with a lot for UMass fans to cheer about, there were a couple scary moments. Eric Filiou left the game in the third with an upper body injury after what I thought was a cheap hit by a Providence player. Filiou went to touch up the puck on a delay penalty call for the Minutemen and as soon as he made contact with the puck was needlessly blindsided by a Friar into the boards. No penalty was called. Later in the third Mike Busillo was hit into the stanchion at the Providence bench by Tim Schaller, who received a misconduct for the hit. Luckily Busillo, who is giving the Minutemen quality minutes on defense, popped right back up.
I wish all games could be like last night (minus the injury to Filiou). It seems like pieces are falling into place for the Minutemen. The top two lines are really starting to mesh well, with Conor Sheary and Pereira both starting to produce points recently. The team appears to have found their #1 goaltender in Boyle, who is currently second in the league with a 1.59 goals against average. And the defense has played excellent against some of the best offensive teams in the conference. The Minutemen will now take on the three teams around them in the Hockey East standings with a chance to grab some points and climb up some spots in the conference.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Conor Allen
Obviously Boyle and Pereira both had excellent games, but as I said the defense was the real star last night and Allen has played the best among all the team’s defense this season. Allen has been blocking shots, disrupting offensive rushes and playing his usual hard hitting style, all while playing smart and staying out of the penalty box. The Friars were averaging 34 shots on goal going into last night. Allen and the UMass defense held them to exactly half that.
In the Republican’s recap Pereira credits a pep talk from his brother and former Boston University captain Joe for his breakout game.
Here’s the game story from the Gazette.