The Massachusetts hockey team improved to 3-0-0 on the young season with a 5-2 win over the Sacred Heart Pioneers in the team’s home opener. For the second Friday night in a row the game featured a Minuteman hat trick. While freshman Austin Plevy had a three goal effort in the season opener at Colorado College, it was sophomore Dennis Kravcheno with the hat trick, the first of his collegiate career, this past Friday.
The Pioneers were the better team to start the game, outshooting the Minutemen 8-2 over the first 10 minutes and really controlling nearly all the play. UMass would catch a couple breaks early on as Sacred Heart would miss at least two open nets but the continued pressure would pay off as Sacred Heart was the first on the scoreboard, with Kory Kennedy scoring at 10:05 in the period. That goal seemed to wake the Minutemen up however as they had the better chances during the rest of the period, outshooting Sacred Heart 6-3 during that time. Sophomore Keith Burchett would tie the game with just a a couple minutes left in the first when he rushed into slot, quickly corralled a loose puck and fired a wrister over the shoulder of Pioneer goaltender Brett Magnus.
UMass would take the lead six minutes into the second on the power play when Austin Plevy made a nice backhand pass to Dennis Kravchenko who was waiting at the top of the crease to score his first goal. Kennedy would strike again for the Pioneers 15:11 into the second to bring the score to 2-2. The third period would belong to the Minutemen and Kravchenko however. With just under 7 minutes left Dominic Trento would beat a Pioneer player to a loose puck behind the Sacred Heart net and in one motion would collect the puck and center it in front to a streaking Kravchenko, who one-timed home his second goal of the night. Two and a half minutes later Trento would add a goal of his own, with Kravchenko gaining the primary assist, to give UMass the 4-2 lead. Kravchenko would cap off his big night and spur a cascade of hats onto the ice (OK, it was only one, but still) with an empty net goal scored from center ice.
This was just about as good a game UMass fans could’ve asked for. The Minutemen got big effort from their high profile players like Kravchenko (3G, 1A) and Plevy (2A). But contributions from guys like Trento (1G, 1A) and Burchett (1G) are key as the season moves on. The play by Trento to set up Kravchenko’s first goal was the highlight of the night. Getting production from those type players will probably make a difference between winning and losing games. The Minutemen got another solid performance in net from sophomore Henry Dill as he stopped 34 of the 36 shots he faced. Dill and Nic Renyard, who has appeared in one game so far, now boast identical .938 save percentages over the three games. That is obviously worlds better than the .878 team save percentage during last season.
UMass scored another power play goal on Friday, bringing their season total to 5. The team is converting on 33% of their extra man chances, 5th best in the country. One thing they approved upon versus the previous weekend against Colorado College was the number of penalties taken. The Minutemen gave the Tigers 11 power play opportunities in two games in Colorado Springs but gave Sacred Heart just two chances on the power play on Friday, killing both.
If there’s one easily identifiable area of opportunity so far in this successful season it’s the shot differential. Sacred Heart held the advantage in shots attempted with 58-44 and shots on goal with 38-26. On the season opponents have the edge in shots attempted 224-157 and shots on net with 128-85. This hasn’t affected the outcome because UMass is shooting at such a high rate right now, scoring on 16.9% of their overall shots and 11.9% at even strength. UMass is making the most of their shots so far, even if shooting less, but those stats are something to keep an eye on as the level of competition rises.
Through two weekends UMass is playing about as well as anyone could’ve hoped. They have not missed a beat on offense despite the departures of key players Frank Vatrano and Brandon Montour from last season. At the same time the goaltending has been stellar, despite having faced a good number of shots through the three games. And the defense seems to have improved as well. There have been fewer glaring hiccups on defense that we were seeing last year at this time, such as the problematic breakaways, odd-man rushes, or opponents left alone in front of the net. While I’m sure Coach Micheletto and the staff have areas they’re looking to improve upon, from a UMass fan’s perspective the team is firing on all cylinders and this Friday’s Hockey East opener against New Hampshire should be much anticipated.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Dennis Kravchenko
It’s going to take the pressure off me to pick my POTG if we keep seeing all these hat tricks every night. Kravchenko now leads the country in points with 8 and he and Plevy are tied for 2nd in goals behind Omaha’s Austin Ortega.
Dennis Kravchenko – photo by Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics
Recap, box score, and game highlights from UMass Athletics.
The Collegian has their game recap as well as a piece looking at UMass’ suddenly strong third period play. The opening line of Jason Kates’ game story, “Winning is good” reminds me of what my two-year old daughter said as we left Friday’s game, “Fun hockey”. Indeed.
It’s hard to believe there could be bigger news coming out of the hockey program than the undefeated start, but I think this qualifies. After decades of trying, UMass appears to be getting a hockey band! Athletic Director Ryan Bamford tweeted the following after the game:
It sounds like the band will be there as early as this Friday against UNH and it was only the Multi-Brand Concert that kept them away against Sacred Heart. I have written previously about the great benefits to having a band and how it would dramatically improve the atmosphere of the Mullins Center. A huge stick tap goes to Bamford and his staff who were successful where so many had fallen short previously as well as Band Director Tim Anderson. It wasn’t from lack of effort as Toot Cahoon and hockey boosters had led spiritied efforts to get a band to no avail. I’m told that newly appointed Assistant Athletic Director Alan Pandiani played a particularly key role to make this a reality. I cannot wait to hear Fight Mass on Friday!