The Massachusetts hockey team was able to put last weekend’s disappointing finish against #2 Boston University and gain two Hockey East points and arguably their best win of the season in a weekend split. It looked like it’d be a tough weekend for the team when they gave up another third period lead on Friday to Northeastern, losing 5-3. But they rebounded the next night by dominating the 12th ranked River Hawks on the way to a 5-2 win.
UMass got off to the early lead against Northeastern on Friday when Riley McDougall scored his fourth goal in five games 11 minutes into the first. Dennis Kravchenko would make is 2-0 Minutemen when he scored on a 5 on 3 just 18 seconds into the second period. From then on though, Northeastern would pretty much control play. Shots were even at 8 apiece in the first, but for the last two periods Northeastern outshot UMass 31-14. The Huskies would score a couple goals during the second, one on the power play and one at even strength, and it looked like the teams would go to the third tied at 2. But Patrick Lee would score his fifth goal of the year with just 42 seconds left to give the Minutemen a 3-2 lead.
The third period would belong to the Huskies however. Northeastern outshot UMass 13-6 in the final period, despite UMass getting two power play opportunities while the Huskies got none. Northeastern would tie the game at 3 just six and a half minutes into the period when Zach Aston-Reese scored. Then two and a half minutes later a Trevor Owens goal would give them a 4-3 lead. A Kevin Roy goal with under a minute left would ice it for the Huskies.
Friday’s game was disappointing because it was yet another third period lead that UMass was unable to hold onto. It was also very concerning that Northeastern was able to control play and have such a wide margin in shots. But, there were a couple bright spots. First, the freshmen continue to make huge contributions, with first year Minutemen scoring all three of the goals on the night. Another positive was the fact that UMass took just one penalty on the night. Recent games had turned on penalties and poor play from the penalty kill, including the previous loss to BU. So it was good to see UMass not let the PK decide the game by staying out of the box.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Patrick Lee
Lee’s play as a freshman this season has been somewhat overshadowed by Kravchenko and Brandon Montour. But his 19 points is tied for third best on the team with Steven Iacobellis. His go-ahead goal at the end of the second was his fifth point in the last three games.
After the collapse against Northeastern I don’t think many fans thought they’d see their UMass team dominate ranked Lowell the next night, even if the River Hawks had been struggling recently. But that’s exactly what happened. Except for a short time early in the third when the River Hawks made the most of a two man advantage, UMass was the better team all night.
The game featured a goaltender matchup of two former teammates as Steve Mastalerz faced former Minuteman Kevin Boyle. Mastalerz would end up the victor, although Boyle played OK despite the 5-2 score and didn’t really get any favors from his teammates. UMass was able to move the puck well and most of the goals scored came off skill shots. Both of the goalies had very good first periods as neither team was able to get on the scoreboard despite 17 shots in the period.
Kravchenko would get things going with his second goal in two nights seven minutes into the middle period. But the goalies would continue to be stringy and the score would stay 1-0 until a flourish of UMass goals at the end of the period. Dominic Trento would score his third goal in four games when he streaked into the slot and buried a centering pass from Anthony Petrella with just under 2 and a half minutes in the period. River Hawk Ryan Collins would take a hitting from behind penalty moments later, putting UMass on the power play. With the extra man Brandon Montour would feed Frank Vatrano on the right side of the goalline and he’d put the puck past Boyle from a tough angle giving UMass the 3-0 lead going into the final period.
Vatrano would kick off scoring in the third with a snipe goal two and a half minutes in. A couple minutes later Maddison Smiley would take a hitting from behind penalty followed shortly by a Kravchenko slash to give Lowell a two man advantage. The River Hawks made the most of their opportunity by scoring two power play goals just 27 seconds apart, the first with the two man advantage and the second with just the extra man. Considering UMass had lost third period leads in the previous two games, fans were nervously wondering if they’d see a repeat. But once the teams were at even strength the Minutemen went back to possessing the puck well and limiting Lowell’s chances. Just a minute after Lowell cut the UMass lead to 4-2, Shane Walsh continued his late game heroics and sealed the game with his 10th goal of the season.
Putting up five goals against a ranked team is a big deal, but I think the biggest positive to take out of last night’s win was how the team played defensively. Specifically, they blocked shots and did an excellent job of getting in the passing lanes. Lowell’s offense, second best in the league, just never seemed to get anything going because they were constantly disrupted by UMass’ play defensively. And in net Mastalerz had another really strong night, getting his second win in his last three starts.
When the team dropped games to BU and Northeastern you had to wonder if perhaps the improved play we’d seen from UMass since Christmas was something that would be tough to continue against tougher competition. But beating this talented Lowell team was a positive sign that the team’s progression is still occurring. And the fact that the biggest step forward came on the defensive end against a top offensive squad is huge for this UMass team. They won’t be able to celebrate for long though. Lowell will be back at the Mullins Center on Friday for a non-conference game and then the teams close out the season series Saturday in the Merrimack Valley. There’s no doubt the River Hawks and Kevin Boyle will be looking for some revenge. UMass may have surprised coach Norm Bazin and the Hawks yesterday, but that won’t happen in these next two games.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Frank Vatrano
Vatrano’s two goals coming at the very end of the second period and then at the start of the third decisively put momentum in UMass’ favor. Vatrano is currently third in the league in goal scoring.
The Collegian has their recap from Friday, mentioning a serious injury taken by captain Troy Power that prevented him from playing Saturday. Here’s the recap from Saturday’s win as well as a piece on the contributions from the team’s freshmen.
The Gazette had this interesting piece on what the search committee will be looking for in terms of the next athletic director. Basically, they’re looking for someone a lot more engaging than the last one. On that note, it was great to see interim AD Bob Goodhue at the hockey game on Saturday interacting with both fans and the team, greeting them as they came off the ice following the win.