The Massachusetts hockey team faced two very good defensive teams in Merrimack and Vermont this past weekend and struggled to get their talented offense going early on in both games. The Minutemen did rally from multiple goal deficits in both of the contests. But while their comeback was for naught at home on Friday against the Warriors, a heart-stopping third period in Vermont allowed UMass to at least gain a tie and a valuable road point on the weekend.
The Merrimack Warriors came into the weekend ranked 14th and with one of the better regarded defenses in the country. They lived up to the reputation. The Warriors did a good job blocking shots and disrupting passing lanes and kept the Minutemen, who came into the game averaging 4 goals a game, off the scoreboard until very late in the second. It was a long Callum Fryer wrister, the first goal of his career, that found its way through a crowd and behind Warrior goaltender Collin Delia to finally break through the Warriors defense. But by that point Merrimack already had already built a two goal lead thanks to a pair of goals by John Gustafsson.
A Merrimack interference play early in the third would set up a UMass power play where Shane Walsh would score another clutch Friday night goal to tie the game at two apiece. However, a bad turnover in their own end halfway through the 3rd would spell doom for the Minutemen however as Merrimack’s Alfred Larsson would score easily against Minuteman goaltender Nic Renyard. UMass would get 7 more shots on net after the Merrimack go-ahead goal but Delia would turn them all aside. Hampus Gustafsson would add an empty net goal in the final seconds to seal the Merrimack win.
As good as the UMass offense has been this season they still are having problems against the really good defensive teams. We already saw this when they managed just one goal total against Boston College and Yale. In the Merrimack game nothing showed the UMass struggles more than failing to capitalize on a Merrimack five minute major penalty, the first two minutes of which was a five on three UMass advantage. The shot total during that whole exchange was 4 for UMass and 3 for Merrimack. The coaching staff will need to either figure out a way to generate more scoring against these top notch defensive teams or improve on defense and cut down on mistakes to win these type of games in the future.
The Vermont defense is probably not quite as highly regarded as Merrimack’s at this point in the season, but they’re still pretty good And on Sunday, like Friday night, the Minutemen could not get on the scoreboard early. It looked like the game could end up being a Catamount blowout when Vermont scored two goals in the first and added a third in the opening seconds of the middle period. The Minutemen would continue to give up a ton of shots after those three goals, but Renyard would be able to turn them aside on the way to another 40 save effort, his third this season. Also helping keep the Catamounts from extending their lead was an improving Minuteman penalty kill that shutdown all three Vermont power plays during the afternoon.
Patrick Lee would open the scoring for UMass with a power play goal 6:25 into the third period after corralling a loose puck and snapping it past Catamount netminder Mike Santaguida. It looked as if the game would likely end with a 3-1 Vermont win until William Lagesson was able to get the puck past a screened Santaguida to cut the lead to one goal with just under five minutes left. Renyard would get pulled with a minute and a half left for the extra attacker and it would by Ray Pigozzi who nearly tied the game in the final seconds of Friday’s game, who would get the equalizer on Sunday afternoon.
A scoreless overtime would result in a tie for the Minutemen. I think there’s positives and negatives to take away from this game. First, UMass cannot continue to let their opponents build big leads and then try to come back late. It may work against some teams, but it won’t against the really good teams in the league. Still, you have to admire the persistence that this team has. Last year when the team went down early it usually resulted in a lopsided result. This year on a number of occasions the team has fought back with good results. And while a one point weekend is less than an ideal result, getting a tie in a tough place to play against a team that had won the previous 6 meetings is a good sign of progress for the program.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game (Friday) – Shane Walsh
Walsh continues to come up with big goals at key times and his 8 goals now leads the team. His offensive output dating back to last January is simply amazing, especially considering he wasn’t remotely considered a goal-scorer up to that point.
photo by Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics
Fear The Triangle Band of the Game (Friday) – The UMass Hockey Pep Band
Yes, the hockey pep band made their debut on Friday night and it was great to hear their tunes reverberating throughout the Mullins Center. By all accounts their first performance was a big success and it’ll be great to see how they build on their performance in coming games. Between the band and a pretty good student crowd in recent games it’s nice to see an atmosphere being rebuilt at the Mullins Center.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game (Sunday) – Ray Pigozzi
Walsh, Austin Plevy, and Dennis Kravchenko have gotten a lot of attention early on this season for their offensive performances but Pigozzi is putting together a really good junior year. With his game-tying goal and assist on Sunday he is tied with Walsh for third on team in points. In fact he has registered a point in all but one game so far this season.
The Gazette has a story on Friday’s loss as well.
Here’s a Catamount viewpoint to Sunday’s comeback from the Burlington Free Press.
Former Minuteman Conor Sheary was named AHL Player of the Week.