The Massachusetts played 120 minutes this weekend against sister school Lowell and was barely in the games for more than a matter of a few minutes. The River Hawks grabbed an early lead both nights, controlled possession throughout the weekend series, and utterly embarrassed the Minutemen. Lack of focus and at times what looked to be a lack of effort made for a tough weekend for the UMass hockey team. A season that started with such promise after a 4-0-1 start in October now is shaping up to be another huge disappointment as the team has gone 3-13-3 since that hot beginning to the season and is in danger of falling to the bottom of the Hockey East standings.
It was easy to see how dominant Lowell was on the weekend just by watching the games, but the numbers really illustrate the huge gap in performance between the teams. Of course the 4-1 and 5-0 River Hawk victories add up to a 9-1 weekend whooping by a team that had only averaged 2.75 goals per game leading in. Shots on goal during the weekend were 75-36 in favor of Lowell, with UMass managing just 18 shots on goal each night. It was the 3rd and 4th time the Minutemen have failed to gain at least 20 shots on goal this season, including 3 of their last 4 games. In terms of shots attempted, Lowell had 144 on the weekend compared to UMass’ 71. That works out to an average of 24 to 12 per period. For this reason alone I think it’s unfair to put any blame on freshman goaltender Nic Renyard despite giving up all 9 goals in his return to the lineup.
Injuries certainly played a role in UMass’ struggles, as William Lagesson joined fellow defensemen Marc Hetnik and Carmine Buono in the stands. Dennis Kravchenko continues to sit out injured as well. But these games weren’t even close. Lowell scored early in both games, scoring their first goal in the first five minutes both nights, and scored often after that. Even if UMass is without some of their key players against a top team in the league, they should at least be able to keep it competitive. But as we’ve seen in recent seasons even with their full complement of players UMass has struggled to keep close with any ranked team. The problems on defense are somewhat understandable with those players out. But the team should be doing much better on offense even with Kravchenko out. There’s really no excuse for the anemic scoring which dates back to when the team was at full strength without the recent rash of injuries.
There’s no need for me to go through recaps of each game, because there’s not really much to highlight in terms of UMass’ plays. The positives from this weekend are few and far between. Shane Walsh scoring his 15th goal of the season on Friday, a really nice shot that just caught the inside of the post, to at least make sure the team got on the scoreboard once. Callum Fryer has played well as of late and that was the case Friday in a game where he blocked 7 shots. There is really nothing positive to take out of Saturday’s game. The only highlight was the performance by Steven Iacobellis in the faceoff circle where he won 22 of 31 chances. As mentioned, the numbers don’t show it, but Renyard’s play all weekend was solid and he kept the embarrassment from getting to epic proportions.
The frustration of these losses is of course amplified by the fact that in net for Lowell for both wins was none other than former Minuteman Kevin Boyle. John Micheletto has made a number of mistakes in his tenure at UMass but, as I wrote this week, none is at least more publicly apparent than cutting Boyle in the Spring of 2013 to free up his scholarship. Boyle stopped 35 of 36 shots on the weekend, with only Walsh’s snipe on Friday keeping him from getting back to back shutouts against his former teammates. Saturday’s win was Boyle’s sixth shutout of the season. UMass on the other hand hasn’t shut out an opponent in almost two years.
Those who follow me on Twitter know that I had a few things to say about the job that Micheletto has done and his future. I’d like to expand upon those statements in a future post, so I’m not going to get into them here. But it is very apparent from this weekend and the team’s recent play that the team is in a lot of trouble. I only watched the stream of last night’s game, but I have had a number of people mention to me that the team looked like they had “given up”. I can’t say I felt that on Friday when I watched in person, but the lack of energy was noticeable, especially in contrast to the River Hawks who were ready to play from the minute they hit the ice. When previous teams under Micheletto seemed to fade or look like they were just going through the motions, this was chalked up to the roster being made up of players from the previous coach who were not “buying in” to Micheletto. Well, this roster is entirely made up of Micheletto’s recruits except for, ironically, Walsh who is by far the best and most consistently performing player.
If these players are no longer motivated to play for Micheletto then it’s going to be a very long final two months of the season. Though the team is about to play their next seven games in Western Mass, the schedule will not be easy. On Friday Boston College (along with a hoard of their fans and media) comes into the Mullins Center looking to give their coach Jerry York his 1,000th win. Improved Vermont and Northeastern squads are part of that stretch as well as the Boston University team who just blew out UMass last weekend. When the team started 4-0-1 it seemed like the hopes for this season included a possible return to the NCAA tournament. Then those expectations were adjusted when the team started to trip up a bit to finishing with a .500 or better record and hosting a first round league tournament series. Now the hope may be to not finish in last place again. As sad as that sounds, that’s where this hockey program is right now when those are the upper limit of expectations.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game (Friday) – Shane Walsh
Walsh got the lone goal of the weekend on a highlight shot and finished the game with a +1 rating. His 15 goals is tied for 7th most nationally.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game (Saturday) – Steven Iacobellis
I would’ve hated to see what the team’s possession numbers would’ve been without Iacobellis winning 71% of his faceoffs. He ended up taking 31 of the game’s 84 faceoffs
There are exactly zero stories written about this weekend’s series against the #11 team in the country by Western Mass media outlets. Zero. Consider that when thinking about what kind of shape the program is in. I’m not blaming the media. They’ll write stories if they’ll help readership. But there isn’t any. Looking at my own numbers, I can tell you interest in this program is extremely low. Thanks for those of you who are left.
USCHO has this recap of Saturday’s loss. There are no postgame quotes from Micheletto.