Kevin Boyle committed to play hockey at the University of Massachusetts in February of 2009 at age 16. After a couple more seasons of juniors, one year played in his native New Jersey and the other on the west coast of Canada, he came to Amherst in the fall of 2011. He would make his debut in the opening game of the season, a 3-3 tie at Northeastern where he made 29 saves. A week later he made his Mullins Center debut and got his first collegiate win in a 5-3 decision over Bentley. If all had gone to plan Boyle would’ve played his last game as a senior last February. But things did not go as planned. Instead he’ll make his final appearance in Amherst this Friday. He’ll be wearing a UMass sweater, but not one adorned with maroon and white. Instead it’ll be the red and blue jersey of UMass-Lowell where Boyle is putting up excellent numbers in net for a top ten team with their sights set on the NCAA tournament.
As a freshman at UMass Boyle split time in net with fellow freshman Steve Mastalerz, going 8-7-4 with an .895 save percentage and goals against average of 3.00. Not spectacular numbers, but pretty good considering the team itself went 13-18-5 that season. Of course that season would be the last for the coach who brought Boyle to UMass as Toot Cahoon stepped down (some would say was forced out) and was ultimately replaced by Vermont assistant John Micheletto. The team, though not untalented, struggled to adapt to their new coach and system and went 12-19-3 during Boyle’s second year. Boyle himself put up numbers not far off from his first year, going 8-10-2 with a save percentage of .897 and goals against average of 2.73.Through two years neither Boyle or Mastalerz had been able to make the case that he should be the starting goaltender, with them both putting up similar stats while sharing time in net. Through two years Boyle had a slight edge on Mastalerz in terms of save percentage, .896 to .894, hough Boyle had a significant advantage when it came to wins, being in net for 16 of the program’s 25 wins in that two year period.
With Boyle and Mastalerz expected to once again battle for the goaltender position again as juniors it came as a huge shock to fans and players alike when Micheletto cut Boyle from the team following the season. In a head-scratcher Micheletto chose to cut the goalie who had played in nearly 2/3rds of the teams wins in his career, as well as the one who had proven to be more durable, as Mastalerz had missed a number of games due to injury.
Boyle wasn’t alone in being cut by Micheletto in April of 2013 however. Also cut was K.J. Tiefenwerth and Eric Filiou. Tiefenwerth had played in 30 of 34 games as a freshman, scoring two goals to go with four assists. Tiefenwerth would end up transferring to Quinnipiac. His move to Hamden was hindered by open heart surgery to correct a heart defect before he had even played a game for the Bobcats, and he didn’t make much of an impact in his first year there. However this year he’s currently 5th in goal scoring for Quinnipiac, the #2 team in the country, with 5 goals to go with 7 assists. At the same time those cuts were made goaltender Jeff Teglia, who had been hampered by a number of injuries during his UMass career, was informed that his scholarship was being pulled, but that he was welcome to remain on the team as a non-scholarship player.
To this day Micheletto has never publicly commented on the roster cuts. It is my understanding that all players were in good academic standing with the university and had no history of discipline. The understand was that Micheletto was looking to free up scholarships to bring in some of his own recruits. The fact that the coaching search started late the previous year, the process dragged on, and Micheletto wasn’t formally introduced until mid-July meant that he was unable to do anything about the first recruiting class he inherited from Cahoon. Only four seniors had graduated that Spring of 2013 and Micheletto obviously wanted a larger class of players he thought would fit his system that fall. He would ultimately bring in nine new players into the program the following fall.
Needless to say, the players who were cut and their families were not happy. There was even talk of lawyers getting involved. According to sources Boyle and Teglia started to explore what options they had to restore their scholarships. At that time Teglia was informed by Micheletto that if he were to take any action to get his scholarship back, he would be kicked off the team. According to sources both he and Boyle appealed to the university, saying their scholarships being revoked was unjustified. Their appeal was granted and both had their scholarship reinstated. The scholarships themselves would continue to count against the hockey program’s limit, even if the players did not actually play for the team itself. Teglia, now off the team, would finish off his senior year and as far as I know graduate, on scholarship and never having played a game that year.
If Boyle had stayed at UMass his scholarship too would’ve counted against the program’s limit. But his play in his first two years at UMass did not go unnoticed. Coach Norm Bazin, whose Lowell squad had just advanced to the Frozen Four after winning the Hockey East regular season and tournament, invited Boyle to transfer to UMass’ sister school. In the end, both Tiefenwerth and Boyle got to enjoy an express elevator from the basement to the penthouse, getting cut from a team that finished 2nd to last in their league joining teams coming off Frozen Four berths.
Boyle would sit out the 2013-14 season due to transfer rules, watching from the stands while Connor Hellebuyck put up gaudy numbers in net and leading Lowell to another NCAA tournament. But Hellebuyck left for the pros following that year, his sophomore season, and with backup Doug Carr graduating, the River Hawks were without any experienced goaltenders for the upcoming season. Competing against two incoming freshmen for time in net, Boyle got thefirst start of the 2014-15 season for Lowell and ended up getting a 5-2 win over #4 Boston College.He really never looked back after that and ended the season with 18 wins, two more than his entire time in Amherst, and a save percentage of .915, significantly better than his first two seasons. While the River Hawks would go 21-12-6 they would end up just a few Pairwise slots shy of an at-large NCAA invitation.
Boyle played so well his first season in Lowell that both freshmen goaltenders he had been competing against ended up leaving school. And that’s probably a good thing, because they likely wouldn’t have seen much playing time this season either. Boyle went from playing pretty good last year to being dominant so far this season. He has 12 wins this season, 4th most among goaltenders nationally. His .939 save percentage is 7th best in the country and tops among Hockey East goaltenders. His 1.74 goals against average is also 7th among goaltenders nationally and only behind BC’s Thatcher Demko in Hockey East. USCHO in their Hockey East blog this week had an interesting observation. Boyle had just one shutout during his time as a Minuteman. But he has 8 shutouts in just 54 starts at Lowell, or 15% of the time. That’s astounding. In fact, his 5 shutouts this season are the 3rd most in the NCAA.
So how has UMass’ goaltending fared since Micheletto made the decision to cut Kevin Boyle? Not well. Boyle’s loss was Mastalerz’ gain in terms of playing time. But he continued to battle injuries and, while he played solid at times, had trouble with consistency and taking that next step in his progression to being a really good goaltender. He, and the others who have played in net under Micheletto, wasn’t helped by a system that stresses aggressive play, especially by the defensemen, and regularly leads to odd-man rushes and defensive breakdowns. Mastalerz would go 20-46-5 during his UMass career with a save percentage of .899.
Alex Wakaluk ended up being the goaltender who received the scholarship that was opened up when Boyle was cut. Wakaluk had just been named MVP of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League that spring. While that’s quite an accomplishment, the SJHL is considered a lower tier junior league, usually only producing a handful of college players each season. The jump to Hockey East proved to be incredibly difficult for Wakaluk. In his first game at UMass he gave up six goals over two periods against Maine before being relieved. He lasted even shorter in his next start, allowing 5 goals in 22 minutes to UNH. For the most part he has been relegated to mop up duty ever since until making 3 starts in the last few weeks where he’s gone 1-1-1. Wakaluk has appeared in 9 total games for the Minutemen over two and a half seasons, with a save percentage of .832 and goals against average of 5.00.
Mac Haight was brought to Amherst the fall after Boyle was cut as well to take Jeff Teglia’s place as the third string option in net. He ended up playing four games that season, starting two due to Wakaluk’s struggles and Mastalerz being hurt. He would shine in those starts, a home and home weekend against Boston College, going 0-1-1 while making 57 saves and only allowing two goals each night. But ultimately he would end up getting cut like Boyle did to free up a roster spot for another incoming goaltender, Henry Dill.
It was unknown if Dill would be the goaltending solution that Micheletto had so desperately been searching for since he had been unable to grab the everyday starting role for his NAHL team. Dill has looked stellar in some games, such as a 42 save effort in just his second career start. But overall results have been mixed. He is 9-12-1 through one and a half seasons with a save percentage of .872. He hasn’t even been dressing for games since early December due to a violation of team rules and it sounds like fans won’t be seeing him in the crease or on the bench anytime soon.
Nic Renyard is the latest goaltender to mind the net for the Minutemen and his addition after a decorated season in Canadian juniors last year finally seemed like the end to UMass’ goaltending woes. And maybe it will be. Renyard’s .911 save percentage, if it continues at that pace, will be the highest since a .913 posted by Paul Dainton during his sophomore year in 2008-09. But Renyard hasn’t been playing recently, benched in favor of Wakaluk. Whether that’s because Renyard has been banged up or that Micheletto thinks Wakaluk has finally emerged as a college goaltender, it’s unknown. But two and a half years after Boyle was cut loose from the program, UMass is still searching for consistent, quality goaltending to lead them out of the bottom of Hockey East.
It’s tough to look back at Micheletto’s decision to cut Kevin Boyle as anything but a colossal mistake. Does that mean Boyle would have been dominating with a .935 save percentage and regularly shutting out opponents with the maroon and white the last two seasons? No. It would be silly to dismiss the role that Lowell’s superior talent to UMass and, probably more importantly, the stifling defensivive system employed by Bazin as critical to the success that Boyle has had. But on the flip side, you still need a skilled goaltender to be able to come in and put up the numbers he has every night. Bazin has found a way to either instruct Boyle to improve on his weaknesses (rebounds being the most memorable from his time at UMass) or Bazin is an adept enough coach to adjust his system in a way to minimize Boyle’s limitations. Micheletto on the other hand continues to look for players that fit the mold needed for his system. And he keeps looking. And looking.
Apparently Boyle didn’t fit that mold so he cut him loose. Why was Boyle cut instead of Mastalerz in April of 2013? I’m not sure. Perhaps it was their difference in technique. Perhaps it was that Mastalerz’s best games that previous year had come against the top teams in Hockey East while Boyle’s wins had come against more average opponents. There have been rumblings that the staff did not like Boyle’s work ethic and that perhaps he wasn’t well liked by teammates. But that is directly countered by this recent article in College Hockey News where Boyle’s junior coach (and former UMass graduate assistant) Darren Yopyk says Boyle has “always been a good teammate and got along with everyone and he always had a smile on his face. He was very coachable.” Plus, if he has attitude or work ethic issues, they don’t seem to have come into play at Lowell.
After shutting out New Hampshire for the second time this season last Friday Boyle was named the Hockey East Co-Defensive Player of the Week. It is his third such honor this season. Bazin says he is “one of the elite goaltenders in the country”. Before Friday’s game he’ll lead his team onto the Mullins Center ice for the final time. But that team won’t be the Massachusetts Minutemen who are coming off a last place finish last season and have won only 3 of their last 15 games while starting three different goaltenders. No, Boyle will be leading the 1st place in Hockey East, #10 UMass-Lowell River Hawks onto the ice, searching for another win on the road to the NCAA tournament. As the UMass program continues to falter in his fourth year at the helm it’s obvious that John Micheletto finds himself in a precarious position as head coach. Could the start of Micheletto’s demise been that day he informed Boyle he wasn’t good enough to play for him? Maybe. Maybe not. But one thing is for certain. Maybe it’s irony, karma, or coincidence, but two losses to Boyle and the River Hawks this weekend could be a significant step toward Micheletto’s very own parting of ways with UMass hockey.