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