Another dramatic performance for the Massachusetts hockey team in last night’s 5-4 overtime win over Maine in the opener of the Capital City Classic puts the Minutemen in a historic position. With their 4-0-1 record to start the season it’s the first time in the program’s history that the team has been unbeaten through its first five games. To extend that streak to six games the Minutemen will have to overcome its toughest test yet when they face the #13 Yale Bulldogs in the tournament championship game tonight.
I was only able to listen to the game intermittently last night and I’m struggling to find highlights on the web, so my ability to do in-depth commentary of the game is limited. The Black Bears got on the scoreboard first when Will Merchant scored the first of two goals with under 5 minutes to go a first period that was pretty even in terms of pressure from the two teams. UMass’ power play, currently second best in the country, came though early in the second when Dennis Kravchenko beat Maine goaltender Rob McGovern with a wrister. A few minutes later Keith Burchett, who has been playing very well so far this season, gave UMass the 2-1 lead. Kravchenko would extend the lead to 3-1 with his second goal of the night, one for the highlight reels:
Merchant would score again for the Black Bears later in the period to cut the UMass lead to 3-2 heading to the third. UMass would again extend the lead to two goals when Shane Walsh, yep Mr Friday Night, scored just over 5 minutes into the period. The production that Walsh continues to put up for the Minutemen is amazing. SID Jillian Jakuba noted in her weekend preview this week that Walsh, a senior, has produced now over 50% of his career points and 75% of his career goals in the 2015 calendar year.
UMass would not be able to cruise to an easy victory however as Maine would score a couple goals in the minutes following Walsh’s tally to tie the game at four goals apiece with just over 10 minutes left to play in regulation. A key UMass penalty kill in the final minutes of the third would allow the Minutemen to decide the game in overtime. 2:14 into the extra frame Ray Pigozzi would score the odd game-winner when he centered the puck from the boards only have the puck deflect off one or two Maine defenders and end up behind McGovern.
It seems that some people around college hockey are discounting UMass’ hot start for a number of reasons. They cite UMass’ relatively soft schedule (the team has played the 53rd toughest schedule per the KRACH ranking system). They cite the team’s poor advanced analytic ratings in terms of CORSI and PDO, which are showing that UMass is struggling in terms of puck possession and is benefitting from an unsustainably high shooting percentage. I don’t care. The team is winning and by doing so they’re learning how to win. Will they be able to count on scoring on nearly 18% of their shots as the season goes along? Of course not. But what the team is doing, especially with the contests being so close, is understanding how to deal with adversity and are building confidence in themselves, their teammates, and their coaches. The statistics will come down to earth as the season goes along but as the players continue to find themselves in different game situations and continue to learn from them, they’ll be in a better position to evolve and adapt and hopefully succeed.
Those lessons will be needed tonight when they face a very talented Yale team. The Bulldogs beat Ivy rival Princeton 3-1 in the season opener for both teams. Yale got the win by doing a good job controlling the puck, outshooting the Tigers 44-29 for the game and 32-13 in the final two periods. Last season they were one of the best defensive teams in the country and return Alex Lyon, the national leader in save percentage and goals against average. UMass has been playing very well to this point, but it’s likely tonight that scoring chances will be limited. That’s where their penchant for converting on those chances at a high rate will be needed. If they’re able to gain a lead on Yale they’ll also need to clamp down on defense and not squander it. The most concerning aspect of last night’s game was that the team gave up four goals to a Maine squad that was averaging a national low 1.00 goal per game. A victory over the Bulldogs will likely come in the form of 2-1 or 3-2 result, so it’s imperative that the team gets as big an effort on defense and in net as they have in the offensive zone.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Dennis Kravchenko
Obviously Ray Pigozzi deserves praise for being the overtime hero, but I’m going with Kravchenko for my POTG. With his two goals last night Kravchenko is the national leader in both goals per game (1.40) and points per game (2.40). His scores, especially the one shown above, will get a lot of the attention, but his work in the faceoff circle should not be ignored. He won 15 of 22 his faceoffs last night, helping the Minutemen gain a 43-34 advantage at the dot in the game.
photo: Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics
Unfortunately it doesn’t look like any local writers made the trip to Trenton, so the Bangor Daily News’ game story is the only one I can find.
This college roundup from the Gazette does include some postgame quotes from coach John Micheletto however.