Throughout the season Massachusetts hockey games have consistently featured a number of very specific negative aspects. They’ve differed somewhat between blowout losses and close losses, but there are familiar themes that come into play for each game. Yesterday was one of those close loss type of games where the team played well at times, seeming close to turning a corner, only to have the same deficiencies hurt them in the end. Yesterday’s game featured the following familiar themes; hanging with a good team for a couple periods, a Vatrano goal, killer defensive breakdowns at the most inopportune time, and ultimately losing the game because of poor third period play combined with poor special teams.
The first period was overall a good one for the Minutemen where they played decent defense, granted against an offensively challenged Friar squad, and overall seemed to get more of the quality scoring chances. Unfortunately for them on the other side of those chances was Jon Gillies, arguably one of the best goaltenders in the country. Still, the opening stanza gave some hope that perhaps the team had begun to sort out the deficiencies that have plagued them in this disastrous season.
In the second though some of those same hiccups came back to hurt them. It was mostly the inability to clear the puck from in front of Minuteman goaltender Henry Dill that came back to bite them and just over 10 minutes into the second period Providence found themselves with a 2-0 lead. When facing a top notch goaltender like Gillies spotting the opposing team a two goal lead will rarely lead to success. Still there was some hope for UMass fans when Frank Vatrano, who has single handedly been doing his best to get this team a win, scored a power play goal with under three minutes to go in the 2nd. The goal, his 7th in the last six games, was a rebound of a Maddison Smiley shot that Vatrano put past Gilles. Brandon Montour got the second assist on the score, gaining his first collegiate point. Going into the final period UMass had gained back some momentum and appeared to be in a spot to come from behind against the ranked Friars.
But like always the third period was a killer for UMass. Specifically special teams in the 3rd was what did in the Minutemen last night. Everything seemed to be lining up in UMass’ favor when PC’s Shane Luke took a holding penalty just 59 seconds into the period. However, it would be the Friars who would make the most of UMass’ power play when Brandon Tanev skated in on Henry Dill for a shorthanded goal. PC outshot UMass 2-1 during the power play and suddenly it was 3-1 in favor of the Friars. A few moments after PC extended their lead to two goals Ben Gallacher would take his second penalty of the game and put the Friars back on the power play. Trevor Mingoia, Providence’s leading scorer, found the back of the net 34 seconds into the extra man advantage extending the Friar lead to 4-1. UMass started the 3rd period with a little momentum and a chance to make it a game but just four minutes into the stanza the game was effectively over. UMass would get a chance to close the lead later in the period when Anthony Florentino took a five minute major for boarding with 6:37 left. However the Minutemen only managed one lonely shot on goal during the power play and the game ended with the 4-1 score.
Coach Micheletto praised his team’s improved effort and execution after the game and it should be kept in consideration that the Minutemen were facing a ranked opponent with an elite goalie. Still, it’s very worrisome that it was the the same problems that we’ve seen all season led to the loss; poor special teams, defensive breakdowns, and a string of goals to take UMass out of the game. Effort and execution were improved only because the team has played SO BADLY at times this season. Good teams don’t continue to make those same mistakes over and over. Hell, average teams don’t make those same mistakes over and over. What is becoming increasingly concerning is that the offense, once a positive for this team, is now floundering. Vatrano has accounted for 7 of the team’s 13 goals scored in the last 6 games. What happened to everyone else? Dennis Kravchenko was supposed to be an scorer for this team yet has only 1 goal in his last 9 games and only 8 shots on goal in that time. UMass has been held to 1 or less goals in five of their last 9 games. Why are we sacrificing defense in this up tempo offense if it isn’t actually producing shots or goals? Micheletto said in his pre-game interview that he doesn’t plan on changing his philosophy. Well that rigid adherence to a failed strategy could ultimately be his undoing unless he gets something going with this team soon. Hopefully that starts tonight against Air Force. However, the Falcons may not be the pushover UMass was hoping for as they gave host Vermont a pretty good fight last night before ultimately falling 4-2.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Frank Vatrano
Vatrano is doing his part by being among the leading scorers in the league with his 10th goal last night.
There were a few roster moves before last night’s game worth mentioning. It was mentioned in the pre-game interview that Zack LaRue is out indefinitely with injury or illness. Also, Steve Mastalerz and Mike Busillo were not in the lineup (Wakaluk backed up Dill) and FTT has learned that neither senior made the trip to Burlington for the games. I’ll pass along additional information if it becomes available.
The holidays and weird scheduling haven’t allowed me to do a recruit update post recently, but John Leonard is getting some buzz after helping Cathedral win the Pete Frates Winter Classic.