The Massachusetts and Notre Dame hockey teams played 14 periods of hockey this past weekend and Massachusetts was as good or better than the Irish in 9 of those periods. But Notre Dame’s dominance in the final four periods played during the weekend ended up deciding the series. After being the better team in final period of Saturday’s Game 2 to break a tie and even the series Notre Dame embarrassed the Minutemen by scoring seven in last night’s deciding game. UMass’ season ended much as it began way back in October, with a seven goal loss.
In the final period on Saturday the Irish were the better team, outshooting UMass 12-5 and outscoring them 3-1. At the same time UMass took way too many trips to the penalty box, preventing any chance of a comeback as thae Irish eventually won 5-3. Sunday night all of those factors that hurt the Minutemen late on Saturday carried over right to the start of the game. Things could not have started any worse when Steve Mastalerz had what should’ve been a routine save tip off his glove and get past him for an Irish goal just 48 seconds into the game. Mastalerz would settle down and come up with some pretty good saves after that, but unfortunately the team struggled to get that goal back. UMass did not get their first shot on net until sometime around the halfway mark of the first period and had just three total in the opening frame. Taking three penalties that period did not help their cause.
Just under seven minutes into the second period Mastalerz would again be called upon to make a fairly routine glove save. This came just two nights after he flashed the glove over and over while making 72 saves in the five overtime win. But for whatever reason the glove hand failed him last night and again what should’ve been a fairly easy stop got by him, giving the Irish a 2-0 lead. Again he settled down after that goal, which was good because the Irish were dominating possession during a period that would see them put 18 shots on net. But Mastalerz’s night and UMass career would end halfway through the period when an Irish player would get pushed down and barrel into Mastalerz, hurting the goaltender’s leg and knocking him out of the game. With Henry Dill coming in to relieve the senior the hope was the team would rally to their injured senior starter’s cause. But that hope disappeared quickly. Twenty one seconds after Dill entered the game Notre Dame’s first shot against him would find the back of the net. 3-0. A faceoff and 14 seconds later another Irish shot found its way past Dill. 4-0 and for all intents and purposes game over. Two goals late in the same period made it 6-0. A goal in the third gave Notre Dame the extra point, 7-0.
The last two games of the series were extremely disappointing. It’s unfortunate that Friday’s historic win will end up being an odd footnote in a first round series loss by the last place team in Hockey East. Most teams would’ve rode the momentum from that win to complete the upset of the Irish. Instead on Saturday the team fell into the familiar problem of not being able to figure out how to win late and shooting themselves in the foot with penalties. On Sunday the team got blown out by an embarrassing margin and played listlessly. The game marked the 7th time this season where UMass gave up 7 or more goals. I don’t know why or how the team that did everything right for 8 periods on Friday could only manage two good periods on Saturday and Sunday combined. Maybe the epic effort on Friday took too much out of them and they couldn’t recover. Maybe the on-ice leadership of Troy Power was something they were missing after the senior captain missed the final two games with an undisclosed injury.
Whatever the reason for the lackluster play to close out the series, the Minutemen missed out on a huge opportunity. Just moving on to the quaterfinals, even if they lost there, would’ve been a major accomplishment for this team. It would’ve solidified the improved play seen in the second half of the season. It would’ve given the seniors an ability to finish their careers with a positive, something they haven’t had much of in their years here. It would’ve given the younger players some confidence and experience heading into the offseason and next fall. Instead, UMass did exactly what most others around the league expected of them. They fell flat on their face and at the end and looked like the historically bad team they were for most of the season. How is a team not mentally ready to play an elimination game like that? How is the coaching staff unable to get the team motivated and prepared to play the most important games of the season over and over and over? I guess we’ll have all offseason to try to answer those two questions.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Dennis Kravchenko
It’s tough to find a POTG for a 7-0 loss but Kravchenko did fairly well with his two shots on goal, one blocked shot, and 9 for 11 effort in the faceoff circle. And even better, he was only on the ice for one of the goals.
USCHO has an interesting look at Friday’s 5 OT game from the perspective of the officials and the radio crews, including UMass’ Brock Hines and Cody Chrusciel.
The season is over but there will still be a lot of coverage here on FTT for at least the rest of the week. Tomorrow I plan on posting my annual FTT Season Awards. And then on Wednesday and Thursday I’ll be posting a two part Season Review. Included in the season review will be a subject I’ve purposefully avoided writing about in detail during the season; my thoughts on the coaching situation currently at UMass. Probably tomorrow night I’ll also try to squeeze in a recruit update as there’s a lot of activity there with the players currently in state or junior playoffs.