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