There were numerous times in Friday’s contest against Union where it seemed like the Massachusetts Minutemen were on the verge of securing their first win in eight games. UMass had the lead and momentum very early on thanks to a breakaway goal just 49 seconds into the game. They had the momentum again late in the game when they roared back with two 3rd period goals to tie the game and had the chance to play the final four plus minutes of the game with a power play. But in the end the continued offensive problems and defensive breakdowns hurt the Minutemen’s chances to head into winter break with a win and one final lapse handed the win to Union with under 10 ticks of the clock left.
UMass started the game as well as anyone would’ve hoped for. In a season where 1st period goals have been tough to come by a Ray Pigozzi breakaway score would give the Minutemen a 1-0 lead just 49 seconds in. But the Minutemen missed a chance to build on that lead when they would accumulate just three additional shots over the rest of the 1st period, including just one in the final 13 minutes. Instead it would be Union with the lead after one period with the score 2-1. The second goal was a direct result of a bad turnover by UMass in their own defensive zone. The inability to clear out the puck in front of UMass goaltender Nic Renyard led to the Dutchmen’s 3rd goal, giving them a 3-1 lead going into the 3rd period.
It appeared that UMass had another dramatic comeback in store for the fans in attendance during the third period however. Pigozzi would pick up his second goal of the night when he put a nice cross-slot pass from Austin Plevy past Union goaltender Alex Sakellropolous. And then just a few minutes later Shane Walsh had to grab just one more Friday night goal before 2015 ends. Walsh came down the right wing and wristed a shot that just caught the top right corner of the net for one of the best looking goals of the season for the Minutemen, tying the game at 3-3 with 12 minutes to go. UMass had the momentum at that point and it appeared almost inevitable that they’d get the win when Union’s Noah Henry was called for a 5 minute major and game misconduct for hitting from behind with just over four minutes left. But it would be the Dutchmen who looked like they had the extra skater on the power play, outshooting UMass 4-0 in the first two minutes of the major penalty. A tripping call against Ivan Chukarov would negate the man advantage.
The Minutemen wouldn’t manage a single shot on net after that major penalty was called and the game ultimately went to overtime. UMass would get a few chances in the extra period but Union was able to minimize the quality of their shots. It appeared that both teams would walk away with a tie as the seconds wound down in overtime. But with 12 seconds left there was a faceoff in the UMass zone. Neither team won it cleanly but it was Union who was able to corral the puck and skate in unmolested on Renyard for the easy game-winner. Here’s how it looked:
That was obviously the most costly of the defensive errors on the night. I would love to know where everyone was heading on that play, considering UMass didn’t have the puck. The Minutemen weren’t helped by being shorthanded on the blueline during the night as Marc Hetnik is out with a hand injury and a couple other guys got banged up in the game. But being out of position, giving up odd man rushes, and defensive zone turnovers have become the hallmark for the John Micheletto era at UMass. The players change, but the mistakes remain the same three and a half years in.
UMass really needed a win last night against a beatable Union squad. We heard a lot all week about how the team has spent an inordinate amount of time on the road this season and was looking forward to being back home. Well with last night’s loss the team now has a losing record at home. And they are two games under .500 for the season. The team has gone winless in their last 9 games and have lost their last five straight. The team is in a total freefall from their lofty start in October. It’s tough to know if the winter break is coming at just the right time or if stewing on this winless streak until January will be a detriment. The team won’t be able to completely shut it down, regroup, and get healthy for the next few weeks since they have their exhibition with the US Junior Team this Friday. Which might be a good thing, because after how the team has performed since early November, there is a lot of improvement needed if they want to avoid wasting their excellent start to the season.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Ray Pigozzi
With his two goals last night Pigozzi is now tied with Dennis Kravchenko for second on the team and is tied with Walsh for total points.
photo by Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics
Over the course of the next week or two I plan on doing some mid-season recaps, so keep an eye out for those.
The Collegian has their game recap as well as a piece looking at UMass’ problems in the first period. This is a telling quote from Shane Walsh, “I can’t remember a game where we’ve come out like we wanted to come out, and you can’t do that in this league.” And then this one from Micheletto, “I know that we’re disappointed that we haven’t looked like that in the first period, I don’t know if ever. I think any bump that we’re getting from scoring a few goals is probably tempered by that first period lack of jump.” This is infuriating. If the team is flat to start here and there you can point fingers at the players. But if it’s a regular occurrence, that’s on the coaching staff.