The Massachusetts hockey team played really well for five periods this weekend in their home and home series with New Hampshire. Unfortunately that one bad period cost them a chance at sweeping the Wildcats and gaining four points in the standings. Still, this was a UNH team that was on the upswing and probably better than their record, so the split itself is a sign of progress for the Minutemen.
Friday’s game at the Mullins Center was a strange one as the teams traded goals throughout. It looked bad for the Minutemen early on when UNH scored just 1:22 into the game. However Riley McDougall would score his first collegiate goal, coming off a nice cross ice pass from Keith Burchett, later in the the period to tie it. The Minutemen would then take the lead on a tough angle goal from Marc Hetnik at the beginning of the second. UNH would tie it shortly after but Jake Horton would give UMass the 3-2 lead on a great assist from Dominic Trento. For Horton it was his first goal since early November.
UMass took that 3-2 lead into a wild third period that saw five total goals, including three on the power play. The first extra man score came off the stick of UNH’s Tyler Kelleher just under 8 minutes in to tie the game at 3 apiece. Then, as he did a week before, Shane Walsh took over. Walsh made it 4-3 when he put a Patrick Lee rebound through the five hole of Wildcat goaltender Adam Clark just seconds after Kelleher’s goal. Another UMass penalty led to another UNH power play goal though and the game was tied against with nine and a half minutes left. Walsh would score his fifth goal of the last four games and second game winner in the last three on a give and go with Patrick Lee. Troy Power would give the Minutemen an insurance goal when he tipped a Brandon Montour shot past Clark less than a minute after Walsh’s goal.
UMass did a lot of things right on Friday in what was arguably their best game of the season. As I mentioned in my weekend preview one area of concern was that the production from the freshmen was down in recent months. On Friday the freshmen were all over the scoresheet. They accounted for two of the goals and nine assists. Lee, Montour, and Dennis Kravchenko all had multiple points. Though the team didn’t generate a ton of shots, just 20 total, they made them count. That was especially true in the third period where they had only three shots on net, but all three ended in goals.
Defensively the team played well too. Dill had another solid night, making 29 saves. The team in front of him played really well also, blocking a total of 26 shots. Including last night’s game the team has now blocked 20 or more shots in three of the last four games after blocking 20 or more in only three games total up to that point in the season.
The main area of concern coming out of the win on Friday was penalties and the resulting penalty kill. UMass had eight total penalties and it led to UNH generating 13 of their 33 total shots with the extra man. Both UNH goals in the third period came on the power play and if the Minutemen could’ve stayed out of the box they may have been able to cruise to victory instead of needing some more Walsh heroics again. Faceoffs were another problem as UNH held a 41-27 advantage in that area. Still, it was an exciting game and a much needed Hockey East win for the Minutemen. It also showed signs that the team was indeed progressing from the issues that had plagued them before winter break. Still, the question remained as to whether they could carry the positive momentum from Friday to Durham for Saturday’s nationally televised match.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game (Friday) – Shane Walsh
Walsh has just kicked his game into another gear recently, scoring four goals in five games to go with an assist after Friday’s win. His 7 goals is now second most on the team behind Vatrano’s 12.
Just like Friday UMass had to contend with an early deficit as UNH scored just 18 seconds into the game when a puck deflected off a UMass defenseman and past Henry Dill. It would stay 1-0 UNH for a good part of the game but Stephen Guzzo would tie it in the final minutes of the second period. It looked like UMass were on their way to another strong third period to get the win when McDougall got his second goal in as many nights to give the Minutemen the 2-1 lead five minutes into the final period.
One noticeable difference between how the team had been playing recently versus their earlier struggles was that they were playing some of their best hockey in the third period instead of suffering meltdowns. That was the case in the night before when they surged to the 6-4 win. But over the final 15 minutes UMass had a number of really bad defensive breakdowns. Four Wildcat goals later, including one coming with the empty net, and it was a 5-2 UNH win.
The 3rd period blowout was surprising because the team had played so well defensively over the previous 5 periods. Through two periods Dill again looked solid and the team was again blocking shots regularly, none bigger than one by Steven Iacobellis to save a goal when Dill was caught out of position after making a save. It wasn’t one set of players to blame for the third period goals as the three five on five goals were scored with three different lines and pairings on the ice. It was a team loss just as the night before was a team win.
It’s unfortunate that those 15 minutes ended up costing UMass a chance at the sweep and a four point weekend. But, if the question going into the weekend was “is this team truly progressing?”, I think you’d have to say yes. The team scored 8 total goals from 6 different players. The freshmen were back contributing. The team blocked a total of 46 shots on the weekend. And up until that bad third period they only allowed 3 five on five goals in five periods. And they got a win. A league win. A league win at home. And that’s a first for the team this season. And hopefully just one of a handful more before the season winds down.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game (Saturday) – Riley McDougall
McDougall had a terrific weekend, scoring his first and second goals of his career. His goal on Saturday could’ve been the game winner if the team had been able to hold on. Still, he did what he could, scoring the goal, blocking two shots, and not being on the ice for a UNH goal.