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Recap ▲ Minutemen Start 2016 With A Victory Over Army, End Nine Game Winless Streak

After finishing 2015 with a nine game winless streak and five game losing streak the Massachusetts hockey team got the new year started on the right foot with an overtime win over Army West Point.  Captain Steven Iacobellis scored the game winner early into the extra frame to give the Minutemen the 2-1 win over the Black Knights.  UMass was able to overcome the absence of a number of key players and bring their record back to one game under .500 at 7-8-4.

I didn’t have a chance to attend or listen to the game, so the only observations I can gather is from looking at the box score.  And there’s a lot to like there.  The Minutemen were without three of their usual defensemen in the game as William Lagesson is representing Sweden in the World Juniors and Marc Hetnik and Carmine Buono are currently injured.  In their place Maddison Smiley moved back from forward and Brennan Baxandall and Jake Horton were inserted into the lineup.  With Nic Renyard dressing but a bit banged up in net for the Minutemen was Alex Wakaluk who had struggled mightily in his career, but was coming off an impressive performance in the exhibition against the US Junior team.  Considering those roster moves, UMass’ numbers were pretty impressive defensively.

The Minutemen only allowed 23 shots to reach Wakaluk.  As a team UMass blocked 15 shots on the night, with Horton leading the team with three.  The Minutemen did allowed a power play goal, the first in opponents last 26 attempts.  However, they would go on to start another streak, killing the next four power play attempts by the Black Knights.  UMass would only allow three shots on net in 10 minutes of penalty kill.

Offensively, UMass still had a tough time shaking the offensive woes that have plagued them since early November.  After Army took the 1-0 lead in the first UMass tied it on a power play goal of their own by Shane Walsh, his fourth straight game with a goal.  It looks like Walsh’s offensive breakout will not be limited to the 2015 calendar year.  UMass’ power play had struggled recently so it was good to see them convert in one of their two opportunities.  And it was nice to see Iacobellis net the game-winner in overtime as it seems like he’s been snake bit late in games recently when he’s had the go ahead goal  on his stick.

But for the 7th time in the last 8 games UMass failed to score more than two goals, despite facing a team in the lower third in the country in terms of goals allowed.  The Lee-Kravchenko-Plevy line went another game without registering a point and that’s been a big reason for UMass’ struggling offense.

So there are still some concerns out there going into a very tough stretch of games for the Minutemen.  But you have to be happy where the team is defensively right now and what they were able to accomplish without their full complement of players on the blueline and in goal.  The most important thing is the team got a win and can move forward to the next few weeks where they have games against five ranked teams without a winless streak looming over their heads.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Alex Wakaluk
Obviously Walsh’s goal streak is big and Iacobellis had the dramatic goal for the victory, but I’m going with Wakaluk as my player of the game.  Though he had played well in both exhibition games this season his career numbers in the regular season were nightmarish, with a save percentage of .753 and goals against average of 6.70 in six appearances.  Stopping 22 of 23 shots on the way to his first career win is a big step for him and gives the coaching staff another viable option in net going forward.

photo by Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics

Recap and Box Score from UMass Athletics.

This postgame interview with Army coach Brian Riley includes the game winning highlight:

Here’s the Collegian write-up on the win where coach John Micheletto gives a lot of praise to Wakaluk for his play.

Here’s an interesting profile piece on Nic Renyard from the UMass Athletics site.  It’s interesting that Micheletto had an eye on him early in his BCHL career before he  moved on to the AJHL where he had his breakout year with Okotoks.  It’s also surprising that he’s only on partial scholarship.  I would think that would change next year if he continues to play well.

Masslive had this piece on Frank Vatrano’s experience at the Winter Classic in Foxboro.

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