Recap: UMass Takes Three Points From #14 Merrimack; Kravchenko Wins Rookie of the Week

When the Massachusetts Minutemen returned from winter break with a 4-1 loss to Providence it dropped their record to 4-13-0.  Just four wins in 17 games.  The next night they won against Air Force and they’ve done pretty well ever since.  With this weekend’s tie and win against 14th ranked Merrimack UMass has now picked up as many wins in their last eight games as their did over their first 17, going 4-3-1 in that time.  Splits with New Hampshire and Maine in the past couple weeks showed that the team could hang with some of the other teams at the bottom of the Hockey East standings.  But to take three points from ranked Merrimack who was coming off a weekend where they were College Hockey News’ Team of the Week shows that things may be turning around for this UMass team.

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Recap: UMass Splits Against Maine, Wins Second Home Game Of Season

Splits tend to bring forth both positives and negatives for a hockey team and that’s exactly what happened for Massachusetts this weekend as they split the weekend non-conference series with the Maine Black Bears.  The positives for the weekend were that UMass got another win in a season that hasn’t seen a lot of them.  Friday’s game featured an impressive come from behind victory, something the team hasn’t been able to do a lot this season.  The win that night was just the second win of the season at the Mullins Center.  There were some excellent individual efforts this weekend, namely from Shane Walsh and Henry Dill.  And, due in large part to Dill, the Minutemen only allowed 5 goals total all weekend.

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Recap: UConn Gains Its First Hockey Road Win, Drops UMass 4-3

The Massachusetts hockey team picked up right where they left off in 2014 in terms of league play performance and that’s not a good thing.  UConn came into the Mullins Center in their first Hockey East game against the Minutemen and picked up their first road win in their new league 4-3.  The Huskies have now won two straight games against the Minutemen, the first consecutive wins in the series between the programs for the Huskies since 1979, the year the UMass hockey program went dark before being resurrected in 1993.

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Recap: Minutemen Top Air Force 5-1 To Close Out Catamount Cup

The Massachusetts Minutemen desperately needed a win.  Losers of five straight and eight of their last nine, UMass was paired with Air Force for the second leg of the Catamount Cup tournament.  The matchup was a favorable one for UMass as the Falcons have also struggled on the season, winning just five games and neck and neck with the Minutemen in the Pairwise and KRACH computer rankings.  As expected, the game played pretty evenly through two periods with UMass taking a 2-1 lead into the final period.  Fans, myself included, were wary of another poor final period by the team but instead the Minutemen were on the right side of a third period goal outburst and ended up getting a very solid and much needed 5-1 win over the Air Force.

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Recap: UMass Drops 8-3 Decision To Northeastern To Close Out Disastrous First Half

I’m not going to get into too much detail in breaking down last night’s 8-3 defeat at the hands of Northeastern.  If you saw the 8-1 loss to BU on opening night, or 11-1 shellacking by Vermont, or Notre Dame’s 7-5 victory a couple weekends ago then you saw last night as well.  The only major difference was the string of goals that the Minutemen gave up putting the game out of reach happened right from the first faceoff rather than the accustomed time later in the game.

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Recap: Notre Dame Completes Sweep In Amherst With 4-0 Win

The big question going into last night was how the Massachusetts hockey team would respond against the visiting Notre Dame Irish coming off another third period collapse on Friday.  The hope was that the team would be fired up, looking for redemption for another blown lead and playing with desperation to gain a second league win in their last Hockey East before winter break.  Instead the 2,469 fans in attendance were treated to another series of defensive meltdowns (this time coming in the second period) and one of the most ineffective offensive outputs I’ve seen in quite a long time.

1 and 2.  The first number is the total amount of shots on goal the Minutemen had in the first period.  The second number is the amount of shots they had exactly halfway through the game.  That’s it.  Two shots was all the team could muster through 30 minutes as they finished with 14 shots total on the game.  I’ll give credit to the Notre Dame defense and Irish goaltender Cal Petersen, who picked up his second shutout of the season.  However the Irish defense is not one of the best we’ve seen this season and should not be capable of holding UMass to so few shots.  Coming into the weekend the Domers were 45th in the country in shots allowed per game.  A lot of the offensive futility for the home team last night was self inflicted.  Some of it came from what looked like a lack of effort and execution.  Some of it came from the fact that UMass was killing the 16 penalties they took last night.  Yes, the team had more penalties than shots in last night’s game.  Most of those penalties came from frustration and lazy stick calls.  I’m the first to complain about unbalance officiating, especially when you see a power play disparity of 9 to 3 in favor of UMass’ opponent, but the Minutemen deserved most of the calls.  Things didn’t go their way, they got mad, and instead of taking their frustration out on the back of the Irish net, they got chippy.

For the second time in three games UMass was held to under 20 shots.  The 14 was the lowest since they only generated 10 against Quinnipiac last season.  That is really concerning considering this team is supposed to be aggressive and up tempo.  It is also worrisome to look at the box score and see no shots registered for key offensive contributors Dennis Kravchenko and Steven Iacobellis.  Kravchenko has been especially cold as of late, going without a shot in three games since the team played AIC, totally just 7 shots on goal in those seven games.

Defensively the team started out pretty good, surrendering just 8 shots on net in a first period that did not see any scoring.  But in the second they had another one of their stretches where defensive breakdowns led to a flurry of opponent goals.  In this case it was three Irish goals in 6 minutes and 20 seconds early in the middle period, including a couple goals just seconds apart, that effectively took the Minutemen out of the game.  Immediately after is when UMass let their tempers get the best of them and took a rash of penalties and seemed more interested in fighting the Irish from that point on than trying to beat them on the scoreboard.

This team is in a lot of trouble.  They are regressing as the season is going along, not improving.  Notre Dame came into the Mullins this weekend in a tailspin and yet walk out after dominating the Minutemen on their home ice for two nights, outscoring UMass 11-5, and grabbing all four of the oh so important Hockey East points.  The Minutemen are 4-11-0 overall, just 1-9-0 in Hockey East, and in dead last place.  The team is doing very little right in any aspect of their game currently and the few fans that are still coming to the games are being treated to a mix of what looks like disinterest and confusion by their team on the ice.  Has Micheletto lost his team?  I’m not sure.  But the fact that that is even a valid question right now is scary.  This was supposed to be the season where UMass began to turn around the program and instead it has sunk to lows it hasn’t seen since it was in DI infancy in the mid-90s.  UMass is off until 12/16 when they’ll host the Northeastern Huskies for a non-conference mid-week affair.  Brandon Montour, the jewel of this year’s recruiting class, is expected to make his UMass debut after sitting out the first semester due to clearinghouse issues.  It’s unlikely that the 2nd round Ducks draft pick will solve all of the team’s problems by himself, but maybe just his addition on the ice and in the locker room gives the team a spark and allow them to regain focus and not have this season go down as a complete disaster.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Steve Mastalerz
Mastalerz made his first start in five games and looked solid overall.  He didn’t have a chance on most (or maybe all) of the goals as they were more a result of defensive breakdowns in front of him.  The game could’ve been a lot uglier without his play and he was a big reason why the Irish were only 1 for 9 on the power play.

Fear The Triangle Moron of the Weekend

Recap and Box Score from UMass Athletics.

Game recap from the Collegian as well as a piece on the 16 penalties UMass took in the game.

Good to see Masslive’s Dan Malone covering the team again.  Too bad he didn’t have a better game to write about.  Here’s his short recap and notes from last night.

McGaucheon Watch is in full effect after it was reported AD John McCutcheon is pursuing the AD job for the USCB Gauchos.  Matt Vautour has his story in the Gazette while Malone has a followup piece to his first story on Masslive.  McCutcheon says his primary focus is on UMass, which seems a little weird since he admits it was him that initiated contact with UCSB.

This weekend was pretty depressing for UMass fans.  So here’s a video of a giant teddy bear eventually being tossed on the Lynah ice to cheer you up.

Recap: UMass Suffers Another 3rd Period Implosion, Loses 7-5 To Notre Dame

I have done my best to give this Massachusetts hockey team the benefit of the doubt this season.  I’ve tried to remain optimistic through the struggles.  Early on it was tough to know what to expect considering the roster included so many players making their collegiate debuts.  They also didn’t have the easiest of schedules to start the season, so I urged fans to take that into account.  But we’re now two months into the season.  The young players are acclimated.  There are no tough plane or bus trips, only the short walk or drive to the Mullins.  In short, there is no reason why this team shouldn’t be improving.  No reason why it can’t at least be competitive.  But it’s not.  This team is just bad.  Historically bad.  After last night’s 7-5 loss to the Fighting Irish the team is now giving up 4.50 goals per game.  That is epically bad.  Last year Alabama-Huntsville gave up 4.37 goals per game, holding the last place spot nationally that the Minutemen now hold.  UMass hasn’t given up that amount of goals since the mid-90s when the team was restarted and thrust into Hockey East.

Like we’ve seen throughout the season UMass played well enough early on last night to take a lead into the third period, up 3-2 after 40 minutes.  But the team then gave up four goals, all at even strength, in the first 8 minutes of the final period and just like that the Irish led 6-3.  UMass would finally wake up with just a couple minutes left in the game to score a couple goals, but an empty netter sealed the game for Notre Dame.  7-5 final. It’s the first time this season that the struggling Irish squad has won a game after being down after two periods.  UMass has now given up 31 goals in the third period this season.  Providence, Vermont, Merrimack, and Boston University have given up less in all periods this season.

We’re now two and a half years into John Micheletto’s tenure at UMass.  For the first two years we were told that the poor results were due to the carryover players from Toot Cahoon’s regime not being a good fit for Mick’s up tempo style.  We were told we just had to wait until he got “his players” to Amherst.  Well the roster is now overwhelmingly his players.  We’re now 14 games into the season.  And the team is terrible.  The results are terrible.  And attendance is reaching lows we haven’t seen in 10 to 15 years.  Something has to change.  The saying of “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” comes into play here.  Mick’s style of play is not producing wins.  It’s producing some embarrassing results and putting UMass in such a deep hole in the Hockey East standings that they’ll need something drastic to happen to get out of it.  He has to be flexible and make adjustments.  He has to put more of a focus on defense.

This whole situation reminds me a lot of when Derek Kellogg arrived in Amherst and was insistent on running the Dribble Drive Motion.  The results were maddening, even after he got a few of his own recruiting classes into the program.  In his first three years he won 12, 12, and 15 games.  It wasn’t until year 4 when he dropped the DDM and its architect, Vance Walberg, that the program took off, winning 25 games and making the NIT semifinals.  Hopefully the success of the Mullins’ other tenant serves as a good example that changing things up to better suit the skills of your players can pay off.  At this point it seems like there’s no reason not to try something different.  After all, it really can’t get any worse.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Frank Vatrano
Though his line was on the ice for much of the third period problems, Vatrano did play some of his best hockey in a UMass uniform in the first couple periods.  In the first he scored with a nice wrist shot from high in the slot and in the second scored a shorthanded goal, giving UMass the lead at the time.

Recap, Box Score, and Highlights from UMass Athletics.

Recap from the Gazette.

UMass Athletic Director John McCutcheon is one of the finalists for the same job at UC-Santa Barbara.  Whether he gets the job or not I think it’s time for the school to move on from him.  The fact that he’s out there interviewing shows that he’s not committed to seeing the school through this critical time period where it’s looking to establish itself as an FBS program and secure a conference affiliation.  Let’s face it, McCutcheon has been mailing it in for years.  Many programs around campus, including hockey, are struggling to find consistent success they once had.  The motto for the recent football seasons has been “All In”.  If McCutcheon isn’t all in to make UMass athletics successful then he should leave.  Whether to California or anywhere else.

Recap: UMass’ Offense Sputters As They Drop 3-1 Decision To #14 Quinnipiac

Whereas on Saturday the team played well in nearly all aspects of the their game on their way to a 3-2 win, that was definitely not the case last night.  While they got enough from their defense and goaltending to have a chance for victory, poor special teams and a complete inability to generate any offense against Quinnipiac resulted in a 3-1 loss that was not really as close as the score indicates.  The result drops to UMass to 4-9-0 on the season.  Probably more concerning is the Minutemen are now just 1-4-0 at home, with the lone win coming over AIC.

The story of this one is that UMass simply did not get enough shots on net.  They compiled just 18 shots on goal on the night, with a high of just 7 in the second period.  Even when adding back in the 8 blocked shots by Quinnipiac, the attacking, creative offense we saw the night before in Hamden just wasn’t there.  The lack of shots was despite 7 power play chances on the night.  They did convert on one of those opportunities, but even that was a bit of a flukey goal when the puck bounced strangely off the back boards to Frank Vatrano who was rushing in to put it in the back of the net.  Overall, Quinnipiac’s defense, one of the best in the country, completely stifled any and every UMass scoring chance.

Special teams was the other area that hurt the Minutemen greatly last night.  Already mentioned was the converting on just one of 7 power play chances.  The Bobcats got the go ahead and eventual game winning goal on a short-handed goal early in the third.  After keeping Quinnipiac’s power play off the board entirely the night before the Bobcats went 2 for 6 with the extra man on the night, accounting for their two other goals.

Defensively, outside of the penalty kill, the Minutemen looked OK.  Henry Dill put in another solid performance, making 27 saves a night after making 37 in the first game of the home and home.  He had a couple highlight saves, the most memorable for me being a stop where he quickly flashed his blocker to rob a Bobcat forward who had nearly the whole net open to him.  The defensemen and forwards in front of Dill did another solid job, blocking a season high 25 shots on the night.  The 30 shots registered plus the 25 additional that were blocked shows the dominance in terms of puck possession in favor of the Bobcats.

Overall, a split with a ranked team is a positive at this point in the season.  It’s too bad that they couldn’t put in a better performance at home yesterday to try to build off Friday’s big win.  With their poor record at the Mullins Center so far this season it makes you wonder if the big ice is actually working against the skill and strategy of the team.  It probably also doesn’t help that crowds are dwindling and there’s very little energy to spur the players when they play in Amherst.  Crowds will obviously be less when the students are home for break, but the 1900 fans at the games yesterday is less than the 2200 that this Saturday after Thanksgiving game has typically drawn in recent years.  And frankly, I thought that 1900 figure was pretty generous.  Since the athletic department seems reluctant to market or discount single game tickets, something that was very evident when many other Hockey East teams had Black Friday ticket promotions, it’ll fall on the players to create their own energy at home if the crowds stay away.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Henry Dill
Dill did what he could to keep the Minutemen in this game, at least until the miscue in front of him led to the shorthanded goal that ended up being the difference.

Recap and Box Score from UMass Athletics.

Game recap from the Collegian.

Conor Sheary is mentioned in this piece on Penguins prospects.

Recap: Minutemen Knock Off #14 Quinnipiac On The Road

The Massachusetts Minutemen got their biggest win of the season last night, erasing an early deficit to beat the #14 Quinnipiac Bobcats in Hamden, CT.  It’d be easy to just look at the box score and chalk this one up to Henry Dill “stealing” a game as the freshman goaltender racked up 37 saves on the night.  But that would overlook the contributions that came from all over the roster.  Last night’s big win was a total team effort.

Dill did his part of course, being in good position all night and minimizing rebounds, something that has hurt him recently.  The win now brings him to .500 on the season at 4-4-0.  I think the key to the game was the job that Dill and the guys in front of him did on the penalty kill.  The Bobcats came into the game with the 6th best power play in the country at 25.5%.  Sam Anas led the nation in power play goals and power play points.  Dill and UMass ended up shutting down the vaunted Anas and his team’s power play, with the Bobcats going 0 for 6 with the extra man.  QU got 11 shots on goal during the power play, including 5 down the stretch in the third period, and all were turned away.  As for Anas, he was held without a point all night and only managed two shots on goal.  Oleg Yevenko was a force on defense, accumulating a season high 7 blocked shots on the night.

Offensively we also saw contributions from all over the scoresheet.  After the Bobcats grabbed a 1-0 lead late in the 1st period UMass answered immediately with a power play goal from Steven Iacobellis, as Patrick Lee fed him streaking down the slot with a nice heads up pass from behind the goal line.  Not only was it important for UMass to respond to the Bobcat goal, but it was good to see the matching goal come from the power play which had struggled recently.  Ray Pigozzi got the second assist on the goal and would pick up another assist on UMass’ second goal which was a great cross ice feed to Frank Vatrano as the duo rushed in on Bobcat goaltender Michael Garteig.  UMass’ last goal came at a key spot, just seconds into the third period.  It all started with Lee taking away the puck from a Bobcat looking to exit his own zone and finished with Dennis Kravchenko making a great pass from the boards onto the stick of Troy Power in the slot to help seal the win for UMass.

This was probably UMass’ most complete game this season, executing well in nearly all facets of play.  The only negative would probably be faceoffs where they went 24 for 68.  But they went 1 for 4 on the power play, kept the highly rated Quinnipiac power play off the board entirely, played solid team defense, got stellar play in net, and successfully challenged the opposing netminder, with all three goals coming from nice heads up passing.  If UMass is going to get back on track, last night’s game is a good example of how to do it, by executing well in all aspects of their game.  Tonight they’ll get the chance to see if they can play that well consistently when the Bobcats come north for the back half of the home and home.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Henry Dill
It really was a team effort on defense and the penalty kill last night, but Dill deserves credit for his 37 saves against a quality offensive team.  He did a good job controlling his rebounds and squaring up to the shooter, minimizing the good looks available.

Quinnipiac didn’t post highlights of the game, but you can watch the entire replay here.

Recap and Box Score from UMass Athletics.

Here’s the game story from the Quinnipiac Chronicle.

Recap: Vermont Completes the Pre-Thanksgiving Sweep With A 3-1 Win

The collective groan from Massachusetts hockey fans across the Commonwealth was nearly audible when Catamount Colin Markinson put home a Henry Dill rebound just 47 seconds into tonight’s game.  At the time it seemed more like UVM had just gone up 15 to 1 coming out of some never ending intermission from last Saturday instead of having taken a quick lead in the annual Thanksgiving Tuesday game between these two traditional foes.  Surely, most thought, that immediate goal would lead to an avalanche of others and the Minutemen would be embarrassed like they were on Saturday, but this time in front of an international TV audience.

But, a funny thing happened to that expected narrative.  It didn’t happen.  UMass would end up putting in a pretty solid first period in the final 19 minutes and at the end of 1 the score was still 1-0 and the Minutemen were still in it.  For the majority of the frame in fact they were the better team.  The Catamounts would gain the better team title in the second and extend their lead to 3-0 by the end of two.  But UMass hung in there, played fairly well in the third, got a token goal in the final seconds of the game, and left Gutterson with a 3-1 loss over the #13 team in the country.  Is that good?  Is it bad?  I think we can agree it was eons better than Saturday.  Should we have expected them to win?  Doubtful.  Should we be happy?  I don’t think so.  But, we didn’t see a repeat of the lack of effort and pride that punctuated Saturday, so I guess we can call it progress.

In terms of the positives to take away from tonight it’s probably more just in terms of the effort.  There were times where the team looked a little disinterested, but for the most time their focus stayed on the game and they did their best to stay in it.  They didn’t let the game get out of hand.  It was good to see Dennis Kravchenko get the late, though meaningless, goal after being held without a shot on goal last weekend.  He played much better and got some praise from Tom Caron and Billy Jaffe during the broadcast.

There were more negatives on the night, as you’d expect during a loss.  While the team matched Vermont’s shot total with 28, they really needed to get more creative and challenging if they were going to win this game.  The Vermont defense and Brody Hoffman are just too good to take lazy shots from the top of the slot or the point.  UMass desperately needed to recapture some of that creative passing that made the NCAA highlights against Michigan State, getting the goaltender moving side to side across his crease.  That didn’t happen too much tonight.  The power play was pretty disappointing, going 0 for 4.  The team is 1 for 13 on the power play in the last three games.  The real killer on the power play was at the end of the second and beginning of the third when they had a two man advantage which would have instantly put them back in the game.  But they failed to score during that key opportunity.  Their penalty kill is struggling in the last three games as well, giving up six power play goals in 12 opportunities.  The defense has to improve.  There are still too many turnovers occurring in the defensive or neutral zone.  In fact Vermont’s first goal came directly off a missed clear by Patrick Lee.  Vermont’s second goal was due to the defensemen pinching too far in and Dill not being able to stop the quasi-breakaway.

UMass has another quick turnaround to deal with coming up.  After bussing home tonight they’ll enjoy a Thanksgiving in Amherst before playing a home and home with #14 Quinnipiac, starting in Connecticut on Friday.  UMass desperately needs some momentum from these games going into their two game series at home with Notre Dame.  The games against the Irish will represent the last chance to gain some much needed conference points before the end of the calendar year.  They didn’t get any points tonight, but at least the team tried to show that they were not going to repeat what transpired Saturday.  Tonight wasn’t that satisfying, but maybe the world isn’t ending either.  They got beat by a much better team.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Dennis Kravchenko
Kravchenko’s lack of offensive presence was sorely missed on Friday and Saturday so it was good to see him get back in the groove tonight, even if his goal didn’t come until the game had already been decided.  UMass is going to need consistent output from him if they want to reverse their fortunes going forward.

Game Highlights (sorry, won’t embed)

Recap and Box Score from UMass Athletics.

Collegian recap.

Recap from the Burlington Free Press.

UMass is at the bottom of the SBN College Hockey Hockey East Power Rankings.

Mike McMahon has updated his Hockey East Stat Pack (which got a shout out during tonight’s broadcast).  Not necessarily for the faint of heart.

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