Splits tend to bring forth both positives and negatives for a hockey team and that’s exactly what happened for Massachusetts this weekend as they split the weekend non-conference series with the Maine Black Bears. The positives for the weekend were that UMass got another win in a season that hasn’t seen a lot of them. Friday’s game featured an impressive come from behind victory, something the team hasn’t been able to do a lot this season. The win that night was just the second win of the season at the Mullins Center. There were some excellent individual efforts this weekend, namely from Shane Walsh and Henry Dill. And, due in large part to Dill, the Minutemen only allowed 5 goals total all weekend.
The biggest negative on the weekend was that the Minutemen were completely unable to carry over any positive momentum from the Friday win into Saturday where they looked very flat. Another problem this weekend was that the team struggled to generate offense in both games. On Friday they managed just 22 shots on goal while on Saturday they were shutout by backup Black Bear goaltender Matt Morris who had really struggled in the last few games he played. The last negative is that the team’s performance is really affecting attendance. Officially (and generously from what I saw) only 3,000 combined fans, including a number of Maine fans, saw the games this weekend. Granted, Saturday’s game was up against the Patriots playoff game, but even the prospect of bobbleheads and family ticket discounts isn’t enough to get people to the Mullins Center. It’s getting pretty depressing to see the atmosphere return to the mausoleum levels of the mid-90s.
The beginning of Friday’s game was all about Dill. I would argue he played his best game of his short UMass career. Maine poured 28 shots on net in the first two periods and Dill came up with the routine saves and most of the tough ones too. Without Dill’s play UMass never would’ve had the opportunity to make the comeback later in the game. Still, the Black Bears did get two goals on the scoreboard during the second, including one shorthanded. Luckily Shane Walsh put the team on his shoulders and with a little help brought them all the way to victory.
Walsh got UMass on the board in the second period when he took a Brandon Montour pass on a shorthanded chance which he wristed to the back of the net. But down 2-1 with 10 minutes left in the game and the team unable to create much offense it looked like they were on the way to another loss. Walsh would get things started again though when he brought the puck behind the net and found Troy Power in front of the net. Black Bear goaltender Sean Romeo would stop Power’s shot but the loose puck came to Steven Iacobellis who had just been knocked to the ice. He was able to get back on his skates and shoot at the same time, getting the puck past Romeo and tying the game. With three minutes left Iacobellis would steal the puck along the boards, rush the net, and set up Walsh perfectly with a cross ice pass for the game winner. The win was UMass’ first when being behind after the second period and was a bit of revenge for the last time the teams had played and Maine came back from a 2-0 deficiet with three third period goals.
The end of Friday’s game was filled with energy, focus, and celebration. Saturday had none of that. It seemed like UMass would have a good chance at the sweep when Matt Morris was announced as the Black Bear starter in net. Morris gave up five goals to the Minutemen when the teams faced each other in Orono. He had also only played once since the beginning of November, a game against Vermont where he was chased after giving up 5 goals in two periods. But last night the Minutemen made him look like an elite goaltender in Hockey East. The team struggled generating offense on Friday, accumulating just 22 shots on net. Last night was better with 29 SOG, but hidden in that stat is that Frank Vatrano had 10 shots by himself.
In reality, the team never looked like they were playing with any sense of urgency and rarely challenged Morris. Penalties were really the storyline as the Minutemen took 9 penalties and Maine ended up scoring two power play goals. UMass’ penalties included a pair of game misconducts, one for Troy Power and another for Ben Gallacher. UMass leads Hockey East in penalties by a pretty good margin with 15 PIM a game. Compounding that problem is a falling penalty kill that now has the team second to last among league teams at 76.5%
The positivity that came out of Friday’s comeback win was dissipated by the uninspiring loss on Saturday. Though these games did not count toward the Hockey East standings, a sweep would done a lot to help build momentum, something the team needs desperately if they’re going to improve their standing in college hockey. Instead fans got a reminder that there’s still a lot of work to be done to make this team successful. The weekend as a whole was a little concerning since the Minutemen’s offense, seen as the team’s strong point, only scored three goals against the second worst defensive team in the conference. Still, the defense and especially Henry Dill had one of their best weekends of the season.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game (Friday) – Shane Walsh
POTG could easily go to Dill for the job he did in net, coming up with big saves and keeping UMass in position to make a comeback. But I’m giving it to Walsh who had a hand in all three goals, scoring two and assisting on one. Walsh already has more goals this season (5) than he did in the prior two seasons combined (4).
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game (Saturday) – Henry Dill
After playing extremely well on Friday Dill followed it up with a solid performance on Saturday. He made 34 saves on the night, including 17 in the second period alone, and only allowed one goal five on five.
Friday Recap, Box Score, and Highlights from UMass Athletics.
Dan Malone of Masslive has his thoughts on Friday’s win and quotes from Coach Micheletto and Shane Walsh after the game.