Weekend Recap: UMass Loses Two Stunners In Orono

When the season schedule was announced in August it only took about a half a second to realize that the Massachusetts hockey team was facing a pretty big challenge to start things off.  This three week, three state, four opponent road trip is not really what you want to embark upon with an inexperienced team with just one game under their belt, a game they ended up losing 8-1.  Through the first two weekends of the trip though I think Minuteman fans were pretty content with the results.  A split with Michigan State in Lansing was followed with a win at Northeastern and a hard fought loss at Boston College.  The defense and goaltending, a question mark going into the season, seemed to be improving with each game.  So with the team playing fairly well, they headed north to Orono to play a struggling Maine team and try to pick up some key Hockey East points.  Instead the team lost two heartbreakers in totally different fashions and got swept at the hands of the Black Bears.

I wasn’t able to watch either game so my observations on the weekend are strictly based on what I was able to hear from the radio broadcasts, box scores, and goal highlights.  On Friday all those gains on the defensive end disappeared as Maine scored three goals in the first 22 minutes of the game to jump out to the 3-0 lead with all three goals coming on rebounds after Henry Dill made the initial save.  Only the first came on the Black Bear power play.  The rest of the goals on the night would come at even strength.  Coach Micheletto in an attempt to get things going for Frank Vatrano, Dennis Kravchenko, and Troy Power changed up the lines going into the game.  The switch saw immediate results for Kravchenko who would score the first and second goals of his career in the second period while now centering Patrick Lee and Troy Power.  They both came on excellent individual efforts (highlights below).  The Minutemen would tie the game at 3-3 on a Ray Pigozzi goal late in the second only to have one of those dreaded end of period goals give Maine the 4-3 lead with 20 seconds left in the second.  The goal came on a wrap around that Dill misplayed, coming directly off a Troy Power turnover in his own zone.  Just an awful sequence to close out a period.

Maine extended to the lead to 5-3 early in the third.  But as we’ve seen ever since the third period debacle against Boston University is that this UMass team will continue to battle.  And sure enough they clawed themselves right back into the game with a Patrick Lee goal with six minutes left to cut it to a 5-4 Maine lead.  Power made up for his earlier mistake with the nice heads up center pass to Lee who was set up in the slot.  And in one of the more unlikely heroic sequences Mike Busillo found the puck trickle through some Maine defenders to his stick and netted his first career goal to tie the game up with just under two minutes to go in the game.  The comeback would be for naught however as Black Bear Brian Morgan got the winner in overtime in an extremely sloppy sequence that resulted in a four on two for Maine.

The positives coming out of the Friday game was that the new line combinations definitely produced offensive results immediately, especially with Dennis Kravchenko and Troy Power, who accumulated two assists on the night.  It was nice to see someone the unheralded Busillo get his first goal in dramatic fashion.  But there were a lot of negatives.  All the goals came from bad rebounds given up by Dill, bad defensive coverage, or poor turnovers.  Or some combination of all three.  The Minutemen also got beat badly in the faceoff circle, 20 to 41.  It would’ve been helpful to at least get a point out of Friday’s’ effort.  To come back from a three goal deficit and then a two goal deficit with nothing to show for it was pretty tough to swallow.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Dennis Kravchenko
Pretty obvious choice here with his two consecutive goals to help kickstart the comeback.  He also grabbed an assist on the Lee goal.  Without Kravcheko’s two highlight reel goals to get things going this game could’ve just been a total blowout.

Highlights from Friday’s 6-5 OT loss

Well if you like to mix it up when it comes to experiencing heartbreaking games, then you’re a happy person this weekend.  Saturday’s game was not the barn burner shootout of Friday, but just as devastating at the end.  UMass would pour 18 shots on net in the first but the teams would go into the locker room scoreless after the first period.  The goaltenders, including Steve Mastalerz in net for the Minutemen, would continue to keep their opponents off the scoreboard for most of the second period as well.  But towards the end of the period the new line combinations would produce results again with Kravchenko getting his third goal of the weekend, putting home a loose puck with Black Bear goaltender Sean Romeo already down on the ice.  Just over a minute later Frank Vatrano would score his first goal of his collegiate career from the top of the left circle and the Minutemen had a 2-0 lead with going into the third period.

That final period would belong to Maine however as they Black Bears would outshoot UMass 15-6.  The first goal would be scored seven minutes in on a Devin Shore tip in of a Mark Hamilton wrister.  Liam Pecararo would be allowed to skate into the top of the slot and tie the game up with a wrister with under eight minutes left.  The Black Bears completed the comeback and the sweep on a flukey impossible angle shot that, possibly after hitting a UMass defender, trickled past Mastalerz.  That was it.  UMass was unable to find any late game heroics this game and climbed onto the bus without any Hockey East points on the weekend.

To be so close to potentially four points and end up with none hurts.  It probably seems a little early to worry about the on just the second day of November, but the fact is that UMass has already played 23% of their conference schedule so far.  Their two points puts them in a tie with 6th, but all other Hockey East teams have played less games than the Minutemen and eight of them have played two conference games or less so far.  Hockey East points will be tough to come by this month with games scheduled against Boston College and Vermont, both ranked in the top 15 currently.  Three weekends and at least three splits would’ve been a pretty good accomplishment for this team and something to build off.  Unfortunately in the competitive Hockey East this weekend’s falters means they’ll have to learn how to win against the top teams in the league if they don’t want to fall behind in the standings.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Steve Mastalerz
I didn’t see the game so it’s tough to know how everyone played, but Mastalerz seemed to do his part in getting 35 saves in this game.  It’s tough to fault him on any of the goals except for maybe the second.  Dill playing poorly and Mastalerz playing well this weekend means we’ll likely see these two continue to get starts sporadically until one of them is clearly the better netminder.

Highlights from UMass’ 3-2 Saturday loss

USCHO recaps:  Friday and Saturday

Last month it was reported that UMass was one of the schools interested in BU transfer Sam Kurker.  Kurker announced he’ll be attending Northeastern.