This is always a post I’ve looked forward to each and every year Fear The Triangle has been in existence. I love to take the opportunity to recognize the men who have represented Massachusetts hockey on the ice for the last four or more years. But it’s a bittersweet post too. These guys usually show up on my radar years before they ever get to Amherst. I post about their commitment and then report on their progress and stats in preps or juniors before their UMass careers begin in places like Waxham, Fargo, and Meriden. I’m there to see when they first pull on the maroon sweater. Season after season I report on their game winning goals, unexpected shutouts, injuries, big wins, painful losses, and career highlights. I learn to pronounce and spell their names (in the case of this current class, my “Z” key gets a workout) as second nature. Though my interaction with them directly is usually very minimal, a lot of times I get to know their families and learn more about these players and the sacrifices they and their parents have made to support them in their dream to play DI hockey. And then, as quickly as you can say “Wait, he’s a senior already?”, it’s all over and it’s time to say goodbye to another class.
photo courtesy of Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics
This class has had a lot more challenges and drama than college hockey players typically see. They were all recruited by former coach Toot Cahoon and his staff to come to Amherst. After playing a year, or two in the case of Troy Power and Steven Guzzo, at UMass getting used to college and a specific system, Toot was out and after an exhausting search John Micheletto was brought to Amherst to coach the program. The styles of play between the staff that brought them here and the one they had to play for for the last three years could not be more different. But, they’ve persevered, tried to make the most out of the tough situation they were handed, did their best to lead the team and tried to set a good example for the classes that followed them. And now it’s time to recognize what they’ve done for UMass hockey.
#2 Mike Busillo – Wallingford, CT
I’ll be perfectly honest. When Mike Busillo first committed to UMass I didn’t think he would play very often or make much of an impact. The league he came from, the Atlantic Junior Hockey League, is/was seen as a lower level junior league in the country and he was a late commit, choosing UMass just months before he was due to arrive. However, once he started playing I was impressed and he became someone I would constantly find myself rooting for. I certainly wasn’t impressed by his athleticism, because there’s not much there. Busillo hasn’t played in nearly 70 DI hockey games because he’s a great athlete. He’s played in that many games because he does his best to play smart and works very hard. He’s not a flashy player. He does well by using his head and being in the right position at the right time. And that approach has paid off for him. He currently has a –10 rating for his career. Considering the team’s record in his career and the goal differentials that have led to that record, that’s pretty good. He has always had to battle for playing time, but his play and the stats has shown that he team is better when his defensive presence is in the game. That was most apparent in 2012-13 when the team went 12-19-3 overall. But when Busillo was in the lineup they were 10-8-2.
#9 Steven Guzzo – Oakville, Ont
Steven Guzzo’s UMass career could not have gotten off to a worse start. The 2010-11 UMass squad opened their season out at Minnesota. Just a day away from making his UMass debut, Guzzo seriously injured his knee while practicing at the Gophers’ Mariucci Arena. He had to wait, and heal, an entire year to again to finally realize his goal of playing college hockey. His freshman performance was worth the wait. He put up 10 goals and 10 assists that first season as a Minutemen, by far the best freshman that year in terms of offensive production. He has unfortunately never been able to match those numbers under Micheletto but he’s still been timely in terms of his offensive production. His biggest contributions however has probably been in his steady, reliable two way play and his work in the faceoff dot. He has some work to do in these last few games, but he has a chance to be over 50% of faceoffs won in each of his four years at UMass, including a .539 faceoff performance as a sophomore. Guzzo’s play is easily overlooked, but he’s done well centering a number of different lines and playing different roles from playmaker to defensive forward. He has been an incredibly versatile player during his time as a Minuteman.
#18 Zack LaRue – Sault Ste Marie, Ont
Zack LaRue arrived in Amherst with the reputation as a scorer (he netted 33 goals in 50 games during his last junior season) but it’s really been his physical presence that has punctuated his play at UMass. He has always seemed to play bigger than his 6’1” 194lb frame with timely hits and an ability to play tough in the corners. He has also shown at times that offensive promise however. His first career goal was a big one, the game-winner against Bemidji State in the opening round of the Ledyard Classic. UMass would go on to win the tournament title. This year he has shown an ability to contribute in terms of his physicality, offense, and leadership. His four goals this season is more than he scored in the prior three seasons combined. Midway through the year he was diagnosed with mono, but surprised many by battling back onto the ice after missing just five games. While he has struggled to score since coming back from illness he’s done well in other aspects of the game and has yet to have a minus rating since returning. His leadership skills on and off the ice resulted in him being named an alternate captain for this season.
#22 Troy Power – Camarillo, CA
Troy Power has always played hard and has always played with a bit of an edge. Sometimes it’s resulted in a big hit or a big goal. Sometimes it’s resulted in a untimely penalty. And unfortunately too often it’s resulted Power getting hurt and missing time. After a couple of relatively quiet seasons in his first two years, Power had to suffer through his first major injury 11 games into his junior year when he received a knee-on-knee hit against Northeastern. After gaining a medical redshirt for that year he came back and really excelled in his fourth year in John Micheletto’s offensive system. After only scoring just four goals over partial parts of his first three seasons, he exploded for 10 goals last year, good for 4th best on the team. Like LaRue Power is one of those guys who has played tough in the corners, has looked for the impactful open ice hit, and whose contributions aren’t always realized. His teammates and coaches realize how much his contributions have meant however and Power was named captain of the 2014-15 squad.
#25 Oleg Yevenko – Minsk, Belarus
Oleg Yevenko is one of those players who a segment of the fanbase seem to undervalue and I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s because if you’re his stature in this state playing hockey people automatically think you should be Zdeno Chara. Maybe it’s something else. But personally I’ve been very impressed by Yevenko’s play and specifically how much he’s improved in his four years at UMass. When he came to Amherst from the USHL he was obviously someone who possessed great size, but his skating was poor and he was caught out of position way too often. But, four years later he has gained a reputation in his time here for being a tireless worker and the results of all that work now show on the ice. His skating is no longer a liability and he now knows much better how to make use of his reach without having to overcommit his positioning. I think under Cahoon’s more conservative system people would’ve had a much different opinion of him. But the system he’s had to play the last three years just doesn’t fit his personal stay-at-home style. I may be in the minority, but I think he’s developed into one hell of a hockey player while in Amherst and one that likely has a pretty good future professionally. Off the ice Oleg has excelled in the classroom, being named Hockey East’s Top Scholar Athlete last season. When he first committed to UMass I was just hoping for a big guy who would hit hard, but he’s ended up being a well-rounded student athlete and fine representative of the program.
#39 Steve Mastalerz – North Andover, MA
Mastalerz has had an interesting career at UMass, filled with multiple phases in just four years here. In the first couple years he split time in net with Kevin Boyle. Then he was the #1 goaltender last year as a junior last year playing the majority of games. And then this year he splitting time again, this time with freshman Henry Dill. Mastalerz came to UMass with a lot of promise and interestingly had some of his biggest games early on. Probably none was bigger than when he shutout #4 Boston College in just his fourth start. The next year he would beat BC again, this time ranked 2nd in the country, for the Minutemen’s first win at Chestnut Hill in seemingly forever. His numbers continued to improve over his three years and seemed poised to have a big season in 2014-15. But, that didn’t happen. As we know, defense hasn’t made it easy to be a UMass goaltender this season. And, at different points of the season, Dill was clearly the better goaltender and got the majority of the starts. In fact, for a while I began to wonder if Mastalerz would play at all in the final months. But to his credit he continued to support his teammates fro the bench and in the locker room and waited for his chance. That chance came on January 25th when he made 44 saves in a 4-1 win over Merrimack. Since that time he’s started all but one game and really has been a big part of why UMass has been able to see some success in recent weeks. If UMass is able to perhaps surprise a team in the Hockey East playoffs, he’ll likely be a big part of that as well.
So there are the UMass hockey seniors who will be honored on Saturday. Let’s face it, the last four years have not been how they wanted their college careers to play out from a success standpoint. But they’ve all stuck it out through transitions and frustration. They’ve battled injuries and been patient when playing time or lines got shuffled. And they continued to pull on the maroon sweater every night to represent the University of Massachusetts. For that they deserve our gratitude. And I hope fans are able to make it to the Mullins on Saturday to thank them in person and cheer them on one last night.
Thank you seniors!
Unfortunately I don’t have a chance to write a real preview for this weekend’s series against Providence. So let me give the key to the weekend in just one sentence: Find a way to get the puck past Jon Gilles. It won’t be easy. His statistics are among the country’s best and he and his teammates already stymied the Minutemen once this season.
Captain Troy Power did his own senior tribute in his most recent blog post.
The Collegian had this piece on Dennis Kravchenko’s milestone nearing production this season.