The Massachusetts Minutemen desperately needed a win. Losers of five straight and eight of their last nine, UMass was paired with Air Force for the second leg of the Catamount Cup tournament. The matchup was a favorable one for UMass as the Falcons have also struggled on the season, winning just five games and neck and neck with the Minutemen in the Pairwise and KRACH computer rankings. As expected, the game played pretty evenly through two periods with UMass taking a 2-1 lead into the final period. Fans, myself included, were wary of another poor final period by the team but instead the Minutemen were on the right side of a third period goal outburst and ended up getting a very solid and much needed 5-1 win over the Air Force.
UMass came out very strong to begin the game and picked up the opening goal of the game for the first time since they played Boston College on 11/21. It was Ben Gallacher’s power play goal just 3:56 into the game that put UMass ahead early. The Minutemen had a number of successive chances with the extra man but Falcon goaltender Chris Truehl turned away the initial shots. Frank Vatrano corralled a loose puck and got it to Gallacher though who found a way past Truehl. While UMass dominated the first 10 minutes of the game it was Air Force who was the better team in the second half of the opening period and it paid off with a goal just six seconds before the end of the 1st.
The score remained tied for most of the second until Dennis Kravchenko set up Ray Pigozzi for a goal 14:33 into the period. UMass would take the tenuous one goal lead into the third as UMass fandom collectively held their breaths. Sure enough there was a goal very early out of the gates in the third, but not at the Minutemen’s expense. Instead Vatrano rushed in and picked up his 11th goal of the season to extend the lead to two. Marc Hetnik would pick up a tripping penalty just after the goal, but the UMass penalty kill came though by limiting Air Force to just one shot and maintaining the two goal lead. The penalty kill as a whole had a strong game, killing all three Falcon chances and allowing just two shots on net.
UMass capped off the scoring with an empty net goal by Kravchenko with 31 seconds left and freshman Dominic Trento picking up first collegiate goal with 8 ticks left. Trento’s goal came from a wide angle shot just after a faceoff in the Falcon end. It was good to see Trento get on the scoreboard as he played well overall in the Catamount matches in Burlington after missing the previous seven games to injury or illness.
This game was just what the doctor ordered. The team desperately, desperately, desperately needed a win before they head back into the thick of the Hockey East schedule (and other random non-conference games against Hockey East opponents). And it wasn’t some squeaker either, the team was pretty dominant at times and avoided a lot of the mistakes that had hurt them up to this point in the season. Special teams did well with the power play going 1 for 2 on the evening and as already mentioned the penalty kill limited the Falcons to minimal chances and zero goals. Instead of losing a lead in the third the Minutemen dominated the final period, outshooting Air Force 9-4 and stepping on their throats with three third period goals. Henry Dill and the defense in front of him played one of their best games of the season limiting Air Force to just 20 shots and the single goal. And on offense the Minutemen got contributions beyond Vatrano, though he did have an excellent game. It was especially good to see Pigozzi and Kravchenko get back on track.
It’s important to note that Air Force is not a strong team by any means. And the last time UMass had a convincing win over a bad Atlantic Hockey team, the 7-1 victory over AIC, it didn’t translate to any kind of success against the Hockey East or ECAC teams that followed. Still, a win is a win and they’ve been tough to come by this season. In this case the win itself is as important as what the team chooses to do to follow it up. It should give them a little confidence and a little momentum heading into the quick turnaround when they face UConn on Friday. Tonight proved that this team CAN win. They CAN execute. They CAN beat teams with their game plan. Friday will offer a test to see if they can do all that consistently and against a better team that has a few quality wins under their belt on the season.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Frank Vatrano
With his goal and two assists, who else was I going to pick. Vatrano is now 2nd in goals and 3rd points among Hockey East skaters. What’s more amazing is he didn’t pick up his first goal until 11/1. The 11 goals he has from that point on is tied with RIT’s Matt Garbowsky for tops in the nation during that time