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Recap: UConn Gains Its First Hockey Road Win, Drops UMass 4-3

The Massachusetts hockey team picked up right where they left off in 2014 in terms of league play performance and that’s not a good thing.  UConn came into the Mullins Center in their first Hockey East game against the Minutemen and picked up their first road win in their new league 4-3.  The Huskies have now won two straight games against the Minutemen, the first consecutive wins in the series between the programs for the Huskies since 1979, the year the UMass hockey program went dark before being resurrected in 1993.

The Minutemen lost this game because they made a really, really bad goal scoring team look like an offensive juggernaut all night long.  The Huskies came into the game scoring just 1.76 goals per game, 7th worst in the country.  Their 25.9 shots on goal were 8th worst in the nation.  Last night however the Huskies peppered UMass goaltender Steve Mastalerz with a season-high 39 shots and more than doubled their average goal output.  In fact UConn had already surpassed their 1.76 goal average just 14:53 into the game when Trevor Gerling’s goal put UMass in an 0-2 hole.

After getting outshot 14-12 in the first, the Minutemen came out and looked better in the second and mounted a comeback against the Huskies.  Shane Walsh got UMass on the board first 1:44 into the middle period with a nifty backhand goal from the slot.  That would do it for the second and UConn would extend their lead early in the third with a power play goal.  The Minutemen would eventually tie the game on goals from Frank Vatrano and Brandon Montour, his first as a Minuteman.  But the Huskies would take the lead for good when Spencer Naas streaked down the left side and threw the puck on net from a wide angle that found its way through Mastalerz.  Like we’ve see a few times in recent games UMass would have an extraordinary opportunity late due to ill-timed penalties by their opponents as Gerling took an elbowing penalty away from the puck with 18:04 left.  But UMass couldn’t take advantage of the power play, even with the extra skater, and UConn grabbed the win 4-3.  Fans who were hoping that UMass would kick off league play in the new year with a home win against a vulnerable opponent were disappointed.  What was very frustrating is they gave up four goals to one of the worst scoring teams in the country, showing that the defensive problems that have plagued the team all season still have not been addressed.

Coach Micheletto addressed the defensive mistakes in his postgame comments (linked here via Masslive) where he said, “We had a couple brainfarts and lapses of awareness. That can’t happen. So, it’s an individual thing that impacts the team game … I don’t know that we didn’t come out with the appropriate amount of energy, but can’t not have coverage. If one guy doesn’t have coverage and one guy doesn’t make a play, now you’re in mistake-management mode.”  Micheletto is right, they were individual lapses on defense that led to the first three goals, with the first two coming from Husky skaters completely uncovered and camped out at the top of the crease.  The fourth goal is one that Mastalerz should’ve stopped, although better defense could’ve been played on Naas as well.  So yes, there were individual lapses that led to the goal and ultimately the loss.

But we can’t just look at these mistakes in a vacuum of this one game.  In every game, especially the losses, this season,you can point to glaring missteps on defense by pretty much the entire roster that has led to a multitude of key goals.  The defensive missteps aren’t isolated events, it’s an established trait of this team.  Defensive hiccups here and there by a player or two is one thing.  But when the same thing happens with regularity it’s not on the players, it’s on the coaching.  The team’s defensive problems that has led to the worst goals against in the country isn’t “an individual thing” as Micheletto calls it.  It’s a widespread team problem.  And that problem can be traced back to the fact that Micheletto either is unable to teach his team to properly play defense or it’s a tactical problem based on the style of play he’s selected.  I personally was very disappointed that his postgame comments appeared to try to shift responsibility on individual players rather than acknowledge and take accountability for the team’s season long inability to keep the puck out of the net.  Allowing 4.42 goals per game is a team problem and last I checked this is Micheletto’s team.

Last night was extremely frustrating.  The team wasted a decent offensive output by allowing way too many goals to a bad offensive team.  They lost an opportunity to reboot league play with a much needed win.  And they missed out out two points against a team near the bottom of the standings, at home no less.  What’s even worse is the team’s struggles are really starting to affect attendance and the Mullins Center was filled with boisterous UConn fans who had no problem making the arena Storrs Bridgeport Hartford North for good parts of the game.  Every time I think the season has hit rock bottom, it seems to get a little worse.  It definitely can’t get any worse than losing another home game while getting trash talked by the Husky fans who invaded the season ticket holder sections of the Mullins, right?  Right?!?  Well, I guess we’ll have to find out next weekend.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Brandon Montour
Montour had his best game as a Minuteman, scoring the game tying goal in the third period and also assisting on Walsh’s goal early.  He does seem to have a knack for taking some ill-timed penalties but overall his impact on the team has been a positive one.

Recap and Box Score from UMass Athletics.

In addition to the postgame quotes linked above, Dan Malone also had his “quick hits” on the game.

Matt Vautour has his game story for the Gazette.  To continue to, admittedly, nitpick on Micheletto’s postgame quotes, he needs to stop bringing up a 4-1 loss to Providence as some kind of sign of progress.  Two and a half years and 87 games into his UMass coaching career as he says it really is getting to the point where it’s all about the wins.

Here’s the Collegian game recap.

And here’s the Husky perspective from the Hartford Courant.

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4 Comments

  1. Mel

     /  January 3, 2015

    We area joke. That’s all I got. I can easily see a 1-21 Hockey East record when the season ends.

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  2. I got to the game as usual right when the doors open at 6pm. I sat in section (X) were I usually sit even though my ticket wasn’t for that section because I was able to find an empty seat there. However, when I bought the ticket at the window at 6pm I was told by the person at the window that (X) was sold out. I said since when! She said the available tickets were bought up by Connecticut people. I said okay, no problem, I knew I’d have ample places to sit. So you are right about the number of Connecticut fans there, I saw plenty of them.
    As usual this teams defense was lousy, and I hate to say it, but after four years the large senior leader on defense still plays lousy defense. The Connecticut forwards showed all night long that they ARE NOT intimidated by the size of Mr. 25, in fact it’s pretty evident that NO ONE in Hockey East is or has been intimidated by him. He is hit regularly and skated past routinely by the much more coordinated and faster forwards on the opposing teams. And the goal tending which has minor spurts of being good is more consistently like Swiss cheese as is indicated by the fact that the minutemen have the WORST defense in DIV-I hockey. There are certainly some very talented players on this team, but their system doesn’t seem to allow the players to really play hard nosed decent hockey. Opposing forwards come in way to often unmolested. They have ample time to either shoot or pass it off to some one else who can shoot, and no one clears people out from in front of the crease.
    I had predicted at the Christmas break that I thought the minutemen would have a second half 4-13 record, I figured on the Air Force win and then figured they’d beat Connecticut, but that didn’t happen. So looking at the final 14 games we have to hope that Maine and New Hampshire are still kind of sucking, because there are no cup cakes left for UM to play. The final game of the year is Connecticut in Connecticut so I don’t expect them to win that one either. Seeing how Maine just swept Canisius, Northeastern just beat and tied St. Lawrence, and New Hampshire lost 2-1 in OT and the next night smoked Nebraska Omaha the No.6 team away over the weekend doesn’t bode well for the rest of the minuteman’s games. I would say my (4) win prediction could be in jeopardy unless we squeak out an unlikely victory some where.

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    • Fair assessment of the balance of tge year. Tough to predict any likely wins at this point.

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