In my game preview I said that the strategy for the Minutemen to make sure AIC didn’t get confident and steal another victory at the Mullins Center was to “score early and score often”. Massachusetts hockey fans who attended Friday’s game were treated to just that. Dennis Kravchenko extended his goal streak to three games with a goal just 57 seconds into the game on an odd man rush with Troy Power. The Minutemen would score regularly throughout the first 20 minutes and at the end of the first period the score was 4-0. UMass did not look back from that point and got the win by a final score of 7-1, getting revenge and then some for the embarrassing 3-2 loss to the Yellow Jackets last season.
Whereas last year UMass needed 59 shots against AIC in order to get their 2 goals, on Friday they got their lucky 7 on just 29. So what was the difference between the 3.4% shot percentage last year and the 24.1%? t wasn’t the goaltender. Alex Murray was one of the hottest goaltenders so far on this season coming into the game. He gave up 5 goals on 22 shots. Hunter Leisner who was the star in net last year came in to relieve Murray and allowed two goals on five shots. So was it shot selection then? Yes, but only kind of. It more had to do with with strategy and UMass using their skill to their advantage. If I remember correctly a lot of the shots last year against Leisner were set shots from the point or top of the circles. He had great positioning but at the same time UMass didn’t do too much to challenge him and make him uncomfortable. That was not the same game they played on Friday. They overcame the goaltender by creating odd man advantages over and over and over. The AIC goaltenders didn’t have a chance because UMass was constantly coming in on the rush and making the most of cross ice passes.
As a result, UMass had its best offensive output since 2011. I won’t go through each goal since there’s so many of them and there don’t appear to be full highlights available so I don’t want to rely on my memory. It was a total team effort on offense however as the first five goals were scored by five different Minutemen. One of the positives to come out of the sweep by Maine was that Kravchenko and Frank Vatrano got going offensively. It was good to see that continue to Friday. As already mentioned, Kravchenko got the game started with his goal less than a minute in and would later add an assist. Vatrano would have two goals and an assist against the team his older brother once captained. Zack LaRue continued his strong senior season with two goals as well. Steven Iacobellis’ had a goal and two assists on the night. Stephen Guzzo had a very strong night centering the line with LaRue and Dominic Trento, assisting on both of the LaRue goals and winning 9 of 13 faceoffs. Marc Hetnik also had a multi-point output, getting assists on the first two goals of the game. In the first five games of the season UMass was scoring just 2.4 goals per game. Since Coach Micheletto changed up the lines going into the Maine series they’re scoring 4.7 goals per game with Kravchenko and Vatrano both finding their offensive game.
Defensively UMass did exactly what they needed to do. The Yellow Jackets were held to just 18 shots on the night as the Minutemen dominated puck possession. Freshman Henry Dill put in another solid night, giving up just the one goal on an AIC power play. With the shutout bid over, Alex Wakaluk came in in relief and stopped all four shots he faced.
It’s probably easy to look at UMass’ 7-1 win and say they did exactly what everyone expected them to do. But that’s unfair to probably both UMass and AIC. Last year’s result proved that the Yellow Jackets do have talent and cannot just be dismissed. At the same time it’s a bit of a guessing game what to expect from this UMass team any given night. What they did is come out and shut down most AIC chances while putting constant pressure on the Yellow Jacket net. Fans probably shouldn’t get overly excited about this one result, but it did show that two key trends are continuing from the past few weeks. First, the team is finding scoring despite all the goalscorers lost to graduation last year. And, Kravchenko and Vatrano continue to build confidence as the season is going along. With those two starting to click, the hope is that the November results are much different than the October results.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Zack LaRue
Vatrano and Iacobellis had great games and were also worthy of POTG, but I’m giving it to LaRue since he was actually close to having a hat trick. His first second goal of the night was called back due to a player in the crease (although I didn’t see anyone actually interfering with the AIC goaltender and thought it should’ve counted). LaRue is putting together a hell of a senior season, He had just three career goals coming into the year but already has four so far.
Here’s the USCHO recap.