Many of the circumstances that surrounded Sunday’s drubbing at the hands of Lowell existed last night as well. You had a game being played on a day when the team usually does not have to worry about playing. Due to that, the Mullins would be filled with a small, unenthusiastic crowd. And they were playing a team that may be near the bottom of the standings that had some extra motivation. For the Catamounts I think wanting to prove something to their former staff that now resides on the home bench at the Mullins Center was a motivator. However, they were able to overcome all that and beat Vermont in convincing fashion in the annual holiday tradition game by a score of 3-1.
I won’t comment too extensively on the game since I was not able to make it out there, for good reason. But I was able to watch the video stream of the game while listening to Brock and Adam (who I think are doing an excellent job so far in their new roles). There are two main takeaways I think from last night’s game. First, the team did another good job defensively after giving up a touchdown and two point conversion against Lowell. I think a lot of this improved defense had to do with the return of Kevin Boyle and Mike Busillo.
It’s obvious that Boyle is the team’s number one goaltender and has given them nothing but solid, consistent play. Boyle is statistically the second best goaltender in the league and save for injury or some kind of implosion there’s no reason he shouldn’t be in net every game. Mike Busillo returned to the lineup and by all accounts played well. He finished with a +2 rating and led the team with three blocked shots. While it doesn’t always tell the story of defensive play, his +5 rating is tops on the team.
The other main takeaway is that it was the key players who UMass needs to rely on who stepped up offensively. Branden Gracel had two goals. Mike Pereira and Conor Sheary both had a couple nice assists to set up goals. Pereira has now had six points in the last five games after going without any in his first five. I also thought he played exceptionally well on defense last night, an area of his game he continues to focus on. Sheary now has registered a point in eight of his last nine games. While I hope we start seeing some more goal scoring from him, as he only has one on the season, he has been able to make a positive impact on offense consistently. The other goal was scored by Conor Allen who continues to be perhaps the top all around player for the Minutemen, given his contributions on offense and defense so far. He’s currently 7th among the league defensemen in scoring.
Thanksgiving dinner should taste a little better for the players after last night. Losing, or really even tying the Catamounts, would’ve made for a disastrous last five days. The team needed a win after managing just a point against a struggling Maine team and then getting blasted by an underachieving Lowell team, and they got it. With the win UMass now finds themselves tied for 5th place in Hockey East and just a point behind Providence for home ice. That’s certainly something to be thankful for.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Branden Gracel
Gracel’s two goal game last night was the first of his college career. Both came due to hustle and heads up play. His first came when he was pressing Vermont in the attacking zone and was able to jump on a puck and then skate in for the score. On the second it was Mike Pereira who took the puck away from the Catamounts and made a great cross ice pass to a streaking Gracel. Gracel also got things done in the faceoff circle, winning 15 of his 20 chances.
The Gazette’s recap highlights the sequence where UMass was able to kill a 5 on 3 as the key play last night. The penalty kill has improved nearly 10 points to 85% from where it finished last year.
Here’s the game story from the Republican.
The Collegian recap highlights the defensive and goaltending efforts.
UMass drops to #7 in the College Hockey News Hockey East power rankings.