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Weekend Recap: Massachusetts Splits With Michigan State

Coming off last weekend’s 8-1 loss where the young Massachusetts team collapsed in the third period when faced with adversity, what I was hoping to see in this weekend’s series with Michigan State was an ability to battle and stay in the game.  I think you can safely say that was accomplished as the team fought hard all weekend on the way to a split with the Spartans.  The Minutemen got exactly what they needed if they want to be successful this season; a lot of contributions from the freshmen and sophomores.

I was only able to listen to both games, so I won’t be able to get too deep in my analysis.  On Friday the Minutemen lost 5-3.  After a first period that saw MSU take a 2-0 lead and UMass defenseman Ben Gallacher get seriously injured after a check from behind, one had to wonder how UMass would respond in the second.  It was an early test to see if the team had learned anything from the third period against BU.  And it didn’t take long for them to show that in this case they would choose to battle rather than fold.  They scored two quick goals to start the second frame, the first a was off the stick of Keith Burchett after a nice cross-ice pass (or shot?) from Shane Walsh.  Just a few minutes after that Zack LaRue tied the game on a shorthanded goal after a nice feed from Dennis Kravchenko.  Michigan State regained the lead midway through the period on a power play goal.  Being down a defenseman started to take its toll however and Michigan State would extend its lead to 5-2 after a couple goals early in the third.  Again UMass hung in there and Burchett would score again on a wrister, again off a pass from Shane Walsh, 13 minutes into the period.

That would do it though and Michigan State picked up the win.  Judging from the radio commentary UMass continued to show lapses in their own defensive end and got a shaky performance from Steve Mastalerz in net.  Still, they had to play with five defensemen the whole game so that certainly had an effect on how the defense fared.  The Gallacher injury is a tough one since UMass is only carrying seven defensemen on the roster until Brandon Montour is due to arrive in December.

There were some key positives on Friday despite the loss.  Certainly the play of Burchett and his linemate Walsh were the most obvious.  But I think just the fact that most of the game was give and take with both teams trading scores showed that the young UMass team is maturing and learning how to handle the different situations that come up during the game.  While there were breakdowns, the team played hard for all sixty minutes and they were never really out of the game.  And it put them in a good jumping off point for Saturday.

FTT Player of the Game (Friday) – Keith Burchett
This is an easy one.  Some of the other freshman forwards had the great reputations as forwards, but it ends up being Burchett to have the first breakout game among the group.  Good things happen when you attack the net, and that’s exactly what he did in his first goal when Walsh found him from the other side of the ice.

The theme of the weekend was battle, and that’s exactly what Saturday’s game was.  A battle.  Luckily for the Minutemen they got the last punch in just before the bell.  Patrick Lee’s first collegiate goal with 9.9 seconds left gave UMass its first win of the season with a 4-3 final score.  The game was dominated by the underclassemen with freshmen and sophomores accounting for all four goals and 11 of the 12 points in the game.  On the other end of the ice freshman Henry Dill got a win in his first start, finishing with 28 saves.

The teams were held scoreless for the first 15 minutes of the game and then quickly saw three goals scored in the last five minutes of the period.  Steven Iacobellis got the scoring started only to have Spartan Matt Berry answer just over a minute later.  Jake Horton then picked up his second goal of the season to give the Minutemen the lead going into the second period.  Berry would pick up the lone goal of the second period and then take the 3-2 lead just seconds into the third.  It stayed that way for most of the third until Iacobellis picked up his second with four and a half minutes left in the game to tie it.  Michigan State would make a critical mistake with four minutes left in the game when Justin Hoomainian got a game misconduct for a contact to the head penalty, allowing UMass to play the balance of regulation with an extra man.  With 9.9 seconds left Lee got the game winner and UMass comes home to Amherst with the split.

There were a lot of positives to take away from last night’s game.  Obviously freshmen Lee and Dill playing big roles in the win is one of them.  Horton is living up to his reputation as an offensive threat with his second goal on the young season.  The biggest thing last night was how well sophomore forwards Iacobellis and Ray Pigozzi played.  After being held scoreless in the first two games of the season Iacobellis had the two goals to go with two assists.  Pigozzi had three assists on the night.  There are still a few things to be concerned about however.  The depth at defense could be an issue if Gallacher is out for a while.  UMass fans are also wondering when they’ll hear from Frank Vatrano and Dennis Kravchenko.  The two are first and second on the team in shots on goal but have only combined for one point through the first three games, an assist by Kravchenko.   Freshman Anthony Petrella was also expected to be an offensive threat after leading prep powerhouse Shattuck-St Mary’s in goals last season but through three games hasn’t registered a shot on net.

The split was a success from my standpoint as the team made strides in shaking off the poor performance against BU last week.  The freshmen showed that they can be counted on to contribute and did not seem to be intimidated by playing on the road.  That’s key considering next weekend they’ll be playing in their first league road games at Boston College and Northeastern.

FTT Player of the Game (Saturday) – Steven Iacobellis
Lee was the hero and Dill did well in his first start but two goals and two assists, including on the game winner, gets Iacobellis the nod.

Friday’s recap and Saturday’s recap from UMass Athletics.

USCHO’s game story from Friday.

There wasn’t much other coverage of the series to share.

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BU Recap

Through the first two periods Friday’s game against BU was going pretty much like I expected.  UMass got out to a pretty good start, dominating play for the first five minutes of the game.  But the Terriers were the better team for the final 15 minutes of the period and went into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead thanks to a goal by Robbie Baillargeon.

The second period was more balanced in terms of play and scoring.  BU gained a two goal lead when Nikolas Olsson scored his first collegiate goal.  Late in the second UMass was having a tough time getting the puck past freshman goaltender Connor LaCouvee who was a surprise starter when junior Matt O’Connor got hurt in practice earlier in the week.  It seemed as though the momentum shifted towards the Minutemen when Jake Horton scored his first collegiate goal with just :47 seconds to play in the second period.  During the same sequence BU’s John MacLeod took his third penalty of the night, putting the Minutemen on the power play.  They didn’t score in the final seconds of the period, but with the penalty carrying over into the third the Minutemen had a great chance at tying the game and battling for the win in the third.

Instead fans were treated to one of the worst periods of UMass hockey in recent memory.  The Minutemen failed to get a shot on net in the 1:13 of power play time to start the period.  Forty seconds later phenom Jack Eichel got his first goal of his (likely short) college career.  I’d like to think that the swing in momentum shook the inexperienced team and panic set in.  I hope that’s what it was.  Because that’s better than the alternative that they just gave up.  Things got ugly quick and six minutes into the period UMass found themselves down 5-1.  By the end of the game the final score was an embarrassing 8-1.  Steve Mastalerz gave up six of the goals, but honestly there was probably only one, maybe two, that I would pin on him.  He got no help in front of him.  Most of the goals consisted of BU rushing in between the circles and shooting at will.  Dill came in to relieve Mastalerz and got a similar level of support, giving up two goals on four shots.

Obviously my game preview couldn’t have been more wrong.  I thought the teams were facing similar challenges and would be evenly matched.  Instead what we got was the widest margin of defeat in a season opener in the modern era of UMass hockey, the previous being a 6-0 loss to Boston College in 2002.  I honestly have no idea what happened to the team in the third period .  When facing adversity they folded like a cheap card table.  Could it have been the youth?  Perhaps.  But as I mentioned in my season preview, this class was supposed to be full of proven winners.  Not to mention the fact that the BU was also just as inexperienced. They even started a freshman in net.  Inexperience doesn’t explain why some of the veterans played so poorly either.  Oleg Yevenko who was supposed to anchor the defense this year was on the ice for five of the Terrier goals.

Were there any positives?  A few.  The final score will mask the fact that the team played well enough to be in the game for two periods.  Jake Horton played well again, scoring his first goal.  UMass dominated in the faceoff circle, winning 40 of 63.  Steven Iacobellis alone won 13 of 17.  And the last positive is that UMass is in the early lead for the Charlie Holt Sportsmanship Award after taking zero penalties in the game.

I thought there could be games like the one we witnessed last night during this season, just because of the large amount of roster turnover.  I didn’t really expect it on opening night at home.  It was how they lost that worries me.  Once BU got that third goal there was very little effort or execution from the team, at least on defense.  The players must dedicate themselves to playing good defense going forward.  The rushes that led to the goals were inexcusable.  Things don’t get easy for the Minutemen as they now embark on a three week road trip that spans from Michigan to Maine.  Hopefully the trips will give the team a chance to bond and figure out how to avoid performances like last night.  At the very least, it can’t get much worse.

FTT Player of the Game
Not a lot of options for this one.  Either Iacobellis for his faceoff work or Horton for scoring the goal.  I’ll go with Horton for providing the lone highlight on the night.  It was a hell of a shot.

Gazette Recap
Collegian Game Story
More Collegian coverage on the talent difference between the teams’ top lines.
USCHO Recap

Former Minuteman Kevin Boyle got the 5-2 win over Boston College in his debut for Lowell.

Exhibition Recap

As I wrote in my preview of the exhibition game, I was most interested in seeing how the large freshmen class fared yesterday.  Needless to say, I and the other Minuteman fans walked out of the Mullins Center pretty happy after the freshmen spurred UMass to a 5-2 win over Dalhousie.  The Minutemen just dominated this game from the outset.  In fact at the end of the first period the score was already 3-0 with UMass outshooting the Tigers 23-1.

The freshmen forwards all looked pretty good and seemed to have a good understanding of the offense.  Standing out the most was Dennis Kravchenko who scored two goals.  The first came from a great feed from Troy Power ahead to Kravcheko who was streaking into the slot and put the puck behind the goaltender.  The second came on a wrister  at the top of the slot on the power play.  Coach Micheletto had him playing the point on the power play, also having a forward Frank Vatrano at the point on the other PP unit as well.  Dominic Trento was the other freshman forward to score a goal, getting the last by collecting a loose puck in front of the net and scoring.  Keith Burchett assisted on one of Kravchenko’s goals.  Though he didn’t show up on the score sheet I thought Patrick Lee played extremely well making some great passes.

Jake Horton was the lone freshman to dress on defense as Maddison Smiley was reported to be ill.  Horton gave the fans plenty to watch all by himself though, scoring the first goal of the game on a wrist shot after collecting a loose puck at the top of the slot.  Horton had many more shots after that, finishing the game with an astonishing 12 shots.  Vatrano also had a dozen shots on net, converting on one of them and also assisting on a Kravchenko goal.  Vatrano played very well and looks to be ready to start the season as a key piece for the Minutemen.

The goaltenders each played a period each, though Steve Mastalerz only saw one shot during his 20 minutes.  Freshman Henry Dill had one of the highlights of the night with a flashy glove on a breakaways early on in the second.  Alex Wakaluk played solid, only giving up a garbage goal late I in the game.  Goaltending and defense looked strong, though UMass controlled the puck so much they were rarely tested.  UMass ended up outshooting the Tigers 55-21 during the game, a very encouraging stat to say the least.

All in all it was a very successful exhibition.  The freshman looked poised and were able to move the puck and generate shots on net.  There didn’t look to be any glaring deficiencies on defense or in net.  And it didn’t appear anyone got hurt.  A positive experience to build on ahead of Friday’s opener.

Official recap and highlights from the exhibition.

The Collegian has their recap focusing in on the performance of the freshmen.

UConn, picked to finish just behind UMass, beat this same Dalhousie squad 3-1 this afternoon.  Shots were 31-23 for the Huskies.

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.

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.

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