The Massachusetts hockey team was in need of at least a split this weekend out in South Bend against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Minutemen were coming off of a sweep at the hands of #3 Quinnipiac the weekend before and were winless in their previous six. They also had yet to show that they could get a Hockey East win outside of the teams currently at the bottom of the league standings. After a surprisingly strong start through early November fans have been waiting for UMass to take the next step and show they can compete with the teams in the top half of the league. Instead it looks like the team has taken a step back. The latest setback was Notre Dame sweeping UMass’ last league games before winter break 3-1 and 5-1.
UMass kicked off the weekend on Friday just about as poorly as possible. The Irish got on the board 3:38 into the first period when a Steven Fogarty slapshot got past Minuteman goaltender Nic Renyard. A few minutes later it would be 2-0 when the Irish were stopped on a wraparound attempt but UMass could not gather the rebound. UMass would not have many chances in the opening period. In fact they would get only 4 shots on goal the whole period, even with two minutes of power play. Offense is supposed to be the strength of this team, but just four shots on net is not going to cut it. In fact, when the first period on Friday is combined with the games last weekend UMass had generated 5 or less shots on goal in 4 of their most recent 7 periods.
UMass would do better in the second, outshooting Notre Dame 15-11 in that period, but it would be the Irish who would find the net, taking a 3-0 lead. The Minutemen would finally get on the board early in the third period when Shane Walsh would grab his 10th goal of the season. But that would be it. A couple penalties taken late in the period would kill any chance of late game heroics.
Saturday’s game looked like a carbon copy of Friday to start with a Fogarty goal just over three minutes into the game. Giving up an early goal each night really set the tone for the Irish and allowed them to dictate play. Unlike Friday it would be UMass scoring just a few minutes after the first goal, with Walsh again finding the net for his 11th goal. But less than two minutes later the Irish would win an offensive zone faceoff and immediately fire it past Renyard to take the 2-1 lead.
Early in the second the Irish extended the lead to 3-1 on a delay penalty and that pretty much took the wind out of the Minutemen’s sails for the night. A couple Anders Bjork goals in the third period would seal the 5-1 win for the Notre Dame and close out UMass league play in the first half of the season.
UMass’ offense has looked listless in these last 8 games where the team has gone 0-5-3. They’ve scored 11 goals, or 1.38 per game, in that time. Four of those goals have come from Shane Walsh while Kurt Keats has two. Five other players have one apiece, but not among that group is Dennis Kravchenko or Austin Plevy. In fact Kravchenko has just two assists over those 8 games while Plevy has only one. At the beginning of the season it didn’t appear that scoring would be an issue with the start that Kravchenko, who led the team in points last year, Plevy, and Walsh were off to. Walsh has continued to make consistent contributions to the offense and is 4th in the country in goal scoring. But Kravchenko and Plevy have virtually disappeared. The one bright spot from last night’s game was that Kravchenko looked much better, led the team in shots, and was only kept off the scoresheet by some very good goaltending from the Irish’s Cal Petersen. Hopefully that’s a sign that he’s getting things back on track and can bring some momentum into break with a good game against Union next week.
It’s tough to know what’s going on with this team and why they’re suddenly struggling so mightily after looking like they’d be competitive just a month ago. The schedule has gotten tougher, both in terms of competition and number of games on the road. But the dropoff has been considerable and they haven’t even looked that good in their last couple games at the Mullins Center. As the season goes along opponents seem to know exactly how to shut down the team’s stars and minimize scoring chances. What’s frustrating is the team is getting decent goaltending, improved defensive play and some of the best penalty kill play in the country. Amazingly, in the 8 game winless streak UMass has not allowed a single power play goal, yet their offensive problems are overshadowing the job done to keep the puck out of the net.
Yesterday’s loss now brings UMass’ record to 6-7-4, below .500 after starting the season 6-2-1. In league they’re now 2-4-4 and instead of finding themselves among the logjam for 2nd place like they were a few weeks ago, they’re now part of the logjam for 6th. The team will have one more chance to try to change their trend when they face a Union team that is also a game below .500 on the season. The Dutchmen are still good defensively though so coach John Micheletto will still have to work on fixing whatever ails the UMass offense in order to get one more win before the holidays.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game (Friday & Saturday) – Shane Walsh
Walsh gets the player of the game for both of the weekend tilts. As mentioned, the team as a whole is struggling offensively, but Walsh isn’t, adding his 10th and 11th goals this season. They were both timely ones too with Friday’s cutting the lead to two with a lot of time left and Saturday’s score tying the game after the Irish took the early lead.
photo by Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics