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.
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.