Saturday Recap

Massachusetts had very little to play for yesterday.  They had already been eliminated from Hockey East playoff contention with Maine’s win and the heartbreaking overtime loss at Merrimack the night before.  And the challenges kept piling up for them before and during yesterday’s game.  They were already without star Mike Pereira who suffered a concussion last weekend.  Friday night senior Eddie Olcyzk hurt his shoulder and sadly wasn’t able to dress for his final game of his career.  Once the game started they suddenly found themselves short a defenseman when Mike Busillo received a game misconduct early on.  And in the second period leading scorer Branden Gracel left the game with an injury.  With all that against them and very little to play for, you could’ve expected the team to mail it in and just allow the season to end.  But they didn’t.  With nothing to play for but pride and sending the seniors out on a high note UMass not only showed up last night but dominated in a 3-0 win over Merrimack.

UMass was able to get on the board early in the first when senior co-captain Rocco Carzo made a great backhand pass across the slot from underneath the goal line that found it mark on Adam Phillips’ stick for the goal.  Just a few seconds later UMass would face their first test of adversity as Busillo picked up a contact to the head penalty for an open ice hit and the Minutemen were now without one of their defenseman.  Helping to offset that blueline loss for the rest of the game though was the fact that, due to so many other injuries, Anthony Raiola was dressed and playing as a forward.  He was able to slide back to defense as needed and help contribute to an excellent game by the defense as a whole.  Busillo’s major and an Oleg Yevenko penalty shortly after meant that the Warriors ended up with over six minutes straight of power play time, including some five on three advantage.  But the penalty kill was huge all night, not allowing a goal despite over 14 minutes of power play time for Merrimack.

At the end of the first Conor Sheary would jump on a redirected puck in front of the net and put it in the resulting open net.  In the second period Colin Shea got on the scoresheet with a shot from the point that deflected off a Merrimack stick into the near top corner of the net past Sam Marotta.  Later in that period Gracel would go down injured after being slammed into the boards by a Merrimack player.  Somehow there was no call on the play.  Coach Micheletto, like everyone else in the building, was pretty astounded at the no call and tried to get the officials to come over to talk to him by waiting to send out his next line.  As a result,  referees Chris Federico and Justin Greene assessed UMass with a delay of game penalty while still refusing to acknowledge Mick on the UMass bench.  I thought it was a good move by Mick.  The refs needed to address how Busillo was in the dressing room for an open ice hit while an obvious boarding that injured UMass’ best scorer went uncalled.  Gracel would try to play a couple more shifts that period but by the third period he was not on the bench.

With the officials not doing their job, the Minutemen felt they needed to take matters into their own hands and the third period ended up very chippy.  Conor Allen picked up three penalties in the period alone.  Luckily the game got physical but didn’t get out of control.  Even while picking up penalties and crushing Warriors the Minutemen still controlled play and outshot Merrimack 14-10 in the final period.  On the other end Steve Mastalerz remained perfect on the night and stopped all 24 shots he faced for his second career shutout.

And that’s how the UMass season ended.  Even knowing there would be no game and with an easy excuse of injuries available, the team went out and had one of their better games of the season.  I have to say I was really proud of the heart they showed to go out and win in that fashion.  With the win over UNH last fall and capturing the Ledyard Classic, I’d have say last night was one of the best games of the year.

After the game it was time to celebrate the careers of Rocco Carzo, Kevin Czepiel, Darren Rowe, and Eddie Olczyk.  The senior ceremony was different this year, coming after the game rather than before.  I wish the entire crowd had stayed for it, but a good number of the 4,500 did.  Those who stayed got to see a montage of the players’ highlights as well as pictures of them as kids.  They also got to see just how much being a UMass hockey player means to these guys.  Eddie Olczyk, who dressed in full gear for the ceremony despite being injured, displayed tremendous emotion when he was honored.  It was a good reminder of the dedication and love these guys have for the game and for UMass.  And it was an uplifting way to end the season.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Steve Mastalerz
Yesterday was a total team win.  Everyone contributed, from the guys who scored the goals to the hard hits that came later to stand up for Gracel.  But a shutout seems worthy of the POTG honors and it capped off a stretch of games where Mastalerz looked very good in net.

Highlights from UMass Athletics

Dick Baker has the game story for the Republican.

Mike McMahon has his takeaways from College Hockey News.

Late news today is that Boston University’s Jack Parker will announce his retirement.  I’m sure I don’t have to take the time to list his overwhelming accomplishments during his coaching career on Comm Ave.  Best wishes to him in his retirement.  The guy is a legend.

So that’s it.  Season’s over, unfortunately a little sooner than we all wanted.  I’m not done yet though.  I still have a little more writing in me before I pull the plug on this place.  Tomorrow I’ll unveil my awards for the season.  Later in the week I’ll post my season recap as well as my thoughts on the state of the program.

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Friday Recap

The Massachusetts hockey team went into Durham last night and did something they have not been able to do very often in recent years; get points.  With their playoff lives on the line it was absolutely necessary that they get at least a point out of the game, which they did with the 2-2 tie against New Hampshire.  It certainly would’ve been nice if they could’ve held on to a one goal lead with under a minute left in regulation.  But I think it’s more important to focus on the fact that they were able to get a point from the #5 team in the country on their home ice and as of this morning UMass is still in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot.

This was not a very entertaining game to watch in terms of aesthetics.  Both teams seemed to have major problems moving the puck and establishing good offensive possessions.  It was interesting to watch though as it was two teams battling back and forth in a game that meant a lot to both of them, with the Wildcats fighting for a regular season championship.  UMass struck first in the opening period on a Mike Pereira goal after a Conor Allen shot bounced off the glass and in front of the net where Pereira did the rest.  After being hot for most of February (Pereira was named a runner up for Player of the Month) he cooled off last weekend, registering zero points against Maine.  But the goal last night broke that brief scoreless streak and helped UMass establish themselves in the game.  The Wildcats would answer though with a power play goal half way through the game.

It would remain 1-1 until the end of the game.  Late in the third senior Eddie Olczyk scored his third goal of the season to put UMass ahead with just 65 seconds left.  But that lead wouldn’t hold and with the extra attacker UNH would tie with only 3.7 seconds left.  UMass would have the edge in shot in overtime, 5-4, but the game would end at two goals apiece.

Again, it wasn’t pretty.  It was a little disappointing not to get the win despite the late lead.  But the Minutemen wake up this morning tied in 8th with Maine and holding the tiebreaker in the form of conference wins (eight to Maine’s six).  At this point in the season I don’t think you can ask for more than that.  Their playoff prospects are still tenuous however.  Maine still has a game with Northeastern tonight and while the Black Bears are getting healthier with Joey Diamond and Kyle Beattie back the Huskies are without star Kevin Roy.  It’s probably a good bet that Maine will win or at least tie tonight, which means UMass will have to do their best to get some points tonight as well.  A Minuteman win and a Vermont loss would even vault UMass into 7th place, but at this point 8th and just getting in should be the goal.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Steve Mastalerz
Like the overtime win over the Wildcats last November, this game was a goaltender duel.  However while that game featured the skills of Casey DeSmith versus Kevin Boyle, last night had DeSmith facing Steve Mastalerz.  Mastalerz played very well, especially early on when the Wildcats held a sizable advantage in shots.  He made 15 saves in the first period alone.

College Hockey News focuses on the superb play of the goaltenders.

Saturday Recap

With their backs against the wall and missing the playoffs a distinct possibility, the Massachusetts hockey team came together and put in a very solid game on the way to a 5-2 win over Maine.  It was an interesting game as the teams sort of traded periods.  Luckily for the Minutemen they owned the first and third and got the much needed win.

UMass came out skating hard and taking the puck immediately to Martin Ouellette who had completely stymied them the night before.  They were rewarded for their efforts with a 2-0 lead just eight minutes into the game on goals by Adam Phillips and Branden Gracel.  Gracel’s goal was particular exciting as he let go a perfectly placed slapshot from the top of the faceoff circle to find the back of the net.  Gracel returned to form in the faceoff circle last night as well, winning 14 of the 16 opportunities he had.

The Black Bears would make the most of the opportunities in the second however scoring a couple goals under two minutes apart early on in the period, one coming on the power play.  But UMass would own the third.  Zack LaRue scored a huge goal early on in the period to break the tie.  Conor Sheary would go far side on a sliding Ouellette to make it 4-2, setup by a nice cross-ice pass from Joel Hanley who had three assists last night.  Finally captain Kevin Czepiel would seal the game with an empty net goal late.

The team played well.  It wasn’t quite as easy as the final score might suggest.  Maine continued to play them tough, taking advantage of the extra man opportunities they got for the second straight night.  But what was the difference for UMass was a consistent effort all night long.  They played with energy and determination all game.  They did the little things like crashing the net which is how Phillips and LaRue got their goals.  They’ll need to keep that kind of effort and attitude over the course of the next two weeks.  Although they moved back into the 8th place spot with the win, Maine is still just one point behind and has an easier schedule with two home games against last place Northeastern left.  UMass on the other hand will have to find away to claw some points away from New Hampshire and Merrimack to make sure their season extends beyond March 9th.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Zack LaRue
LaRue hasn’t scored a lot of goals in his UMass career.  In fact last night’s was only his second.  But it was a big one in that it broke the tie, but also that it set the tone for the third period that UMass dominated.

Here’s the Republican game story.

College Hockey News has their takeaways.

Ouellette tells the Bangor Daily News that the whistle should’ve blown before LaRue’s gamewinner.

Friday Recap

Let’s face it, when it comes to Maine there are really only two players you have to worry about this season; Martin Ouellette and Joey Diamond.  So when news came out just before the game that Diamond did not make the trip from Orono due to a back injury, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that UMass would pick up the win last night.  After all, Diamond had accounted for over 1/5th of all goals for Maine this season and is really their only threat on offense.  Also missing would be his agitating style of play, allowing the Minutemen to remain focused on the task at hand and keep their heads.  Well Ouellette and the Minutemen’s own subpar play negated Diamond’s absence and the Black Bears were the victors by the score of 2-0.  The loss knocks the Minutemen into 9th place in Hockey East.  If the league playoffs started today UMass would not be participating in it for the first time since 2002.

Ouellette deserves all the accolades from last night’s win.  Not only did he pick up the win but he made some spectacular plays while doing so.  Coming halfway across the net in the second period to rob K.J. Tiefenwerth with his glove may be the best save I’ve seen all year.  His play does not excuse the Minutemen for last night’s loss however.  There was a glaring lack of energy and a lack of focus on the team’s part.  Aspects of the game that were huge strengths just a month ago are now obvious deficiencies, such as faceoffs and the penalty kill.  The power play last night was abysmal, generating just four shots in three full opportunities.

Has the team packed it in for the season?  It sure as hell looks like it.  A loss tonight would sink the Minutemen to three points behind Maine and out of the playoffs while also giving the Black Bears the tie breaker.  Right now it seems extremely unlikely that UMass would gain much in terms of points in the following two weekends against New Hampshire and Merrimack, the leagues two hottest teams.  Maine on the other hand has an easier schedule with two games left against last place Northeastern.  That pretty much adds up to the prospect of playoffs for the Minutemen coming down to the 60 minutes on the ice tonight.  Let’s see if the team can play like the season is on the line.  Because it is.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Steve Mastalerz
It’s never easy to be cold on the bench and have to come into the game midway through a period.  But that’s what Mastalerz was called to do last night when Coach Micheletto, looking to send a message to the team, pulled Kevin Boyle in the second.  Mastalerz was up to the task and turned away all eight shots faced.

Mick will continue to press buttons to try to get the team back winning again per the Republican game story.

The Collegian points out that just three weeks ago UMass was looking to move into 5th place in the standings.

Michael King has the game story for College Hockey News.

Here’s how things looked for the Bangor Daily News.

Northeastern Recap

I’m getting straight to the point on this one.  Here are my key observations to last night’s 5-4 overtime loss to 10th place Northeastern.  With the loss the Huskies took the season series.  They now are just two points behind the Minutemen in the standings and hold the tie-breaker.  The overtime gamewinner was the first career goal by Josh Manson.  Bryan Mountain got the win after replacing Chris Rawlings in the 2nd.  Mountain was 0-6-2 coming into the game and had just one previous career win.  UMass gave up leads of 3-1 and 4-3 to end the 2nd.  Adam Frenier had the most unbelievable stats in the postgame broadcast.  Going into the game Northeastern was 0-11-0 this season when trailing after 2 periods, 0-21-2 going back to last season, and an astounding 1-40-6 looking back to the 2009-10 season.  That’s a less than 2% chance that the Huskies have come back in similar situations over the last four years.  But they did it last night.

I am extremely worried that this team looks worse now than it did in October or November.  Have I mentioned that I absolutely hate the month of February?  Granted, my father and grandfather were both born this month as well as a couple of our greatest presidents.  But I still would have no problem going straight from January to March.  Hallmark can invent another holiday to replace Valentine’s Day.  For whatever reason the shortest month of the year absolutely dooms Massachusetts hockey every goddamn year.  Right when a Boston College or, this year, a Merrimack gets better and their teams gel and they make a run into the postseason, the wheels fall off the UMass season.

Last night was some of the worst hockey the team has played all season.  The defense struggled all night, pretty blatant considering they gave up 45 shots to one of the weaker offenses in the league.  The goaltending of Steve Mastalerz was unfortunately inconsistent.  While the offense put up four goals, they still seemed disorganized.  And while I’m happy for the special team improvements from last year, there’s a point where this team has to score more 5 on 5 goals.  UMass has a +7 goal advantage on special teams but is –15 at even strength.

Outside of the ice conditions, which delayed the start of the game thirty minutes, everything was in UMass’ favor last night.  They led throughout.  They were at home.  They were playing the last place team who had just gotten swept at home.  And yet they blew it all and took the loss.  Now Maine comes into the Mullins Center this weekend with the chance to take over 8th place.  It makes you wonder how it’s come to this point where UMass is fighting just to barely make the playoffs.  But then again, this is February and we’ve now grown accustomed to exactly that at this time of year.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Mike Pereira
It’s unfortunate that Pereira has elevated his game right when the rest of the team is flat.  Last night he had a couple goals and an assist.  In the last six games he has seven goals and five assists.

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Republican Recap

Collegian Recap

College Hockey News Recap

Saturday Recap

This recap will be brief due to a couple of reasons.  First, I didn’t make it to the game so I don’t have any first hand observations to share, only what was relayed from Brock Hines and Adam Frenier through the radio broadcast.  Secondly, there’s not really much to say.  UMass went into the weekend with a chance to move into 6th place.  Instead they’ve dropped a place in the standings to 8th and are just barely holding onto that as Maine is just one point behind.  In fact there was a point last night where the scores at the time would’ve resulted in UMass in 9th place.

I don’t know if it was effort or execution that did the Minutemen in last night.  I do know that after a scoreless first a shorthanded goal, the 7th given up this season, gave Lowell a 1-0 lead just six and a half minutes into the period.  That would open up the floodgates for scoring as Lowell would score just a few minutes later on the power play and then the teams would trade goals after that for the next few minutes.  But in the end Lowell finished the second period up 3-2 and that’s the score that would hold until the end.  Lowell would outshoot UMass in the final two periods 26-18.  The Minutemen were not helped by six penalties taken in the last two periods either.

There were a number of lineup changes in last night’s game.  The most suprising was the healthy scratch of Conor Allen, probably UMass’ best performing defenseman on the season.  It’s likely Coach Micheletto was sending a message to Allen for grabbing two game misconducts in two games.  Personally I’m not sure if that was a fair decision.  The misconduct last Sunday against Merrimack for contact to the head was thought to be a horrible call by the fans and even press members in attendance.  The misconduct on Friday was out of frustration in the waning minutes of a blowout and hardly factored into the result.  With Allen out Anthony Raiola made the lineup for his 9th game this season.  Mike Busillo was sat again in favor of Peter DeAngelo.  Steve Mastalerz was in net for the game and sounded like he played well.

Whether the lineup changes made the difference last night, I don’t know.  I do know that this team is now fighting for their playoff lives and is probably playing its worst hockey of the season.  The team is 1-4-0 in their last five and have only three wins in the nine games played since the beginning of January.  For the second year in a row Lowell has not only won the season series with UMass, but swept them.  A new coach but the same February struggles and again the Minutemen will have to battle just to stay in the playoff race.  The next six days will be key as they’ll have to rebound to face Northeastern in a rare Tuesday game and then take on Maine who will look to overtake the Minutemen in the standings.  The season started with a lot of hope given a new coaching staff and the quality of players returning.  However through 27 games the team is again near the bottom of the standings and has a worse record than last year.  Maybe this season is just a temporary set back before future success.  But UMass fans have been waiting long enough for a winning team and it’d be nice to head into the offseason at least feeling good about the program’s future.  Micheletto and the players have just seven more games to do so.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Mike Pereira
Pereira had a goal and an assist on the night.  He now has nine points in his last five games, including five goals.

Here’s the Republican recap.

College Hockey News has their takeaways.

Friday Recap

The hope was that the memory of November’s embarrassing 8-2 home loss to Lowell would provide the motivation needed to get up for last night’s game.  That didn’t appear to be the case and the team looked flat from the moment they first hit the ice.  The result was another lopsided loss to the River Hawks at home by a score of 6-3.  Lowell has now outscored UMass 14-5 so far this season and took the Alumni Cup with last night’s win.

It was basically defensive breakdown after defensive breakdown that led to last night’s loss.  Through the first two periods Lowell had four goals on just 11 total shots.  This will go down in the record books as a loss for Kevin Boyle but, other than the second Lowell goal, it’s tough to fault him on any of the others.  Overall the team just did not have it.  Recapping Sunday’s game I mentioned that the effort was there for the team but the execution wasn’t.  Last night neither of those things were present.  The team looked like they were just going through the motions on the ice, especially on the defensive end, and Lowell made them pay for their lack of focus.

There’s very little positive to take from last night’s game.  Joel Hanley played well, grabbing a goal and an assist and not being on the ice for any opposing goals.  Mike Pereira played well and had the best of the few highlights for the Minutemen when he aggressively forechecked on the penalty kill, took the puck away from Lowell goaltender Connor Hellebuyck behind his own net, and easily wrapped it around the goal to score.

With UMass’ loss, Vermont’s win, and Maine’s tie the Minutemen dropped into 8th place and are just one point ahead of the Black Bears.  UMass is in serious danger of missing the Hockey East playoffs for the first time since 2002.  It helps that the team still has a game on hand on Maine and Vermont, but the remaining schedule is not easy.  Given the talent and experience on this team the prospect of missing the playoffs entirely would be a tremendous disappointment and not the kind of start fans were anticipating for Coach Micheletto’s career at UMass.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Joel Hanley
Hanley assisted on Conor Sheary’s power play goal in the second and then scored himself with the extra man in the 3rd to cut the score to 3-4.  That would be as close as the Minutemen got however.

Highlights from UMass Athletics

Here’s the game recap from the Republican and one from the Collegian.

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