This weekend’s series against last place Maine appeared to be an ideal opportunity for the Minutemen to gain valuable Hockey East points, grab their first Hockey East win since early November, and create some momentum heading into the final stretch of the season. They may still achieve some of those goals with a win tonight. But UMass kicked off the weekend with an incredibly disappointing 5-2 loss to the Black Bears that made official the fact that the season has become nothing short of a train-wreck.
Maine has been pretty terrible this season. They came into last night’s game not having won a game outside of their home arena in Orono all season and with just five wins total. Maine had been scoring at an anemic rate, just 1.77 goals per game which is 2nd fewest in the country next to Arizona State who are in their first year in DI. Despite that, Maine trounced the Minutemen in a 5-2 decision. The result creates a three-way tie for last place in Hockey East between UMass, Maine, and New Hampshire.
Last Saturday UMass coach John Micheletto laid the blame for the team’s 6-4 loss to Vermont on the fact that the officials called the Minutemen for six straight penalties and gave the Catamounts an 8 to 4 edge in power plays. He could not use the same excuse last night as UMass was the benefactor of the extra man opportunities against Maine. UMass had seven power play opportunities to Maine’s two with one of the Minutemen’s power plays being the result of a five minute major called on Black Bear Conor Riley. In all UMass would have 14:48 of game play on the power play to Maine’s 4:00. The Minutemen had the extra man for just under one quarter of the game. Yet Maine would still have the edge in total shots on goal 35-30 and shots attempted 64-59.
Maine would control the game right from the start when Blaine Byron scored just 1:22 into the first. Ivan Chukarov would tie the game midway through the opening period with the first goal of his career, the score coming on the power play. But the Minutemen would give up another early period goal, this time just 22 seconds in, to start the 2nd stanza. Maine added another later in the period to take a 3-1 lead into the second intermission. It looked like UMass was going to mount a comeback when Austin Plevy scored a power play goal on a terrific pass from Ray Pigozzi to cut Maine’s lead to 3-2 with 14 minutes to go. But two Maine goals in an 11 second span a couple minutes after that would seal Maine’s first away win of the season.
Maine gave UMass plenty of chances in the game, especially considering they took eight penalties for 19 minutes during the night. And the Minutemen took partial advantage of those calls with their two power play tallies. But at even strength the Black Bears controlled the puck by a wide margin and that ended up being the difference in the game. Maine out attempted UMass 51-33 at even strength during the night.
The loss extended a number of streaks for the Minutemen. They have now lost their last seven games in a row. They are 1-14-0 in their last 15 games and 3-14-3 in their last 20. UMass has lost their last 8 straight Hockey East games and last got a conference win on November 7th. Something has to change. While I was not in favor of an in-season coaching change earlier, I am now. The players gain nothing by having him behind the bench for the final eight games. In fact, judging by how much they’ve regressed in their play since the beginning of the season you could make the case that his continued presence is harmful. The fans have spoken, mostly with their absence, and said that they no longer want Micheletto behind the bench. The program’s boosters have said the same. Do the players still want him as coach? If they do, it’s not apparent with their play on the ice. The effort has been there. Mostly. But the execution has not. Hopefully that changes tonight as the Minutemen attempt to get out of the Hockey East basement.
Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Ivan Chukarov
As mentioned, Chukarov scored his first collegiate goal last night on a nice power play wrister that beat Maine goaltender Matt Morris on the short side. Chukarov’s 4 shots on goal tied his season high.
I’ve mentioned this before, but coverage of this team is scant. Even the Hampshire Gazette has stopped sending anyone to cover the home game regularly. I don’t blame them, the editors make decisions based on reader demand. I would have to imagine UMass is the only Hockey East team currently without a non-student beat writer and one of few DI programs without one across the country.
Luckily, we do still have the quality coverage from the Collegian. Here’s the game story from the paper as well as a notebook piece looking at the offensive woes and challenges with injuries on defense. The Collegian writers, Jason Kates and Ross Gienieczko, also have this podcast on the team (which I haven’t had a chance to listen to yet myself).
Here’s the recap from the Bangor Daily News.
We’ve heard a lot about UMass’ injuries woes this season, as recently as the second Collegian link above. For an interesting contrast, I was very impressed by these quotes from RPI coach Seth Appert regarding his team’s struggles to stay healthy.