The John Micheletto era for the Massachusetts hockey team got off on the right foot Friday night, as the Minutemen defeated Connecticut, 4-1, in front of a raucous bunch of 7,123 fans at the Mullins Center.
It was the biggest crowd ever to witness a home-opener in UMass history, and it was treated to an offensive explosion by the home team.
However, the game was relatively close heading into the third period, with UMass holding a slim 2-1 advantage.
That lead was quickly stretched to 3-1 as center Steven Guzzo skated his way through a pair of defenders and scored an unassisted goal two minutes and 53 seconds into the final period.
“I just was going in the corner with one of the guys on the other team and I came out with the puck, just drove the net and I think it went five hole,” Guzzo said. “There was a guy in front of the net who kind of stepped in my way a little bit and I was lucky enough to get around him and put it in.”
The Minutemen’s lead was increased to 4-1 a few minutes later when defenseman Darren Rowe put one home for a power play goal. Defenseman Adam Phillips was credited with the assist. The power play came after the Huskies (0-1-1) senior captain, center Sean Ambrosie, was called for a tripping penalty.
Despite the two goals, Micheletto felt his team let momentum slip away in the third period after it scored the goals.
“I thought we lost our momentum a little bit in the middle part of that period and it’s something we are certainly talking about,” Micheletto said. “We want to be the same team at puck drop as we are at the final buzzer and we can’t have lapses where we allow that momentum slip away from us where we no longer push the pace like we are capable of.”
One of the stories throughout the game was the physical play displayed by both teams.
UConn committed 14 penalties while UMass had 12, and that was something that didn’t go unnoticed by Micheletto.
“Power plays and penalty kills were excessive due to I think the emotion of the game for our guys,” Micheletto said. “We obviously don’t want to get in these situations where we are having to play special teams that much. It takes us out of our flow.”
Early on, the two teams were neck and neck on the scoreboard, despite the overall 39-25 shot advantage Minutemen had in the game.
UMass got on the board first at the 6:11 mark in the first period, thanks to defenseman Colin Shea’s goal on a bullet from the blue line. Before UConn goalie Garrett Bartus could realize the puck was coming, it was already in the back of the net. The goal came on a power play after UConn’s Jacob Poe was sent to the box for tripping. Forward Branden Gracel was credited with the assist.
But the lead was short lived. Huskies forward Tyler Helton took advantage of a misplayed puck by UMass goalie Kevin Boyle and scored a power play goal of his own, which was unassisted at the 11:56 mark. The penalty was a boarding on Troy Power.
Gracel, who already got a point for his assist on the Minutemen’s first goal, responded with a goal at the 16:57 in the first period, giving UMass a 2-1 advantage. He successfully deflected a Guzzo shot past Bartus on the play.
Bartus kept UConn in it for most of the game with his 35 saves.
Boyle had a quiet but effective night, stopping 24 shots in net.
Cameron McDonough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @MDC_McDonough.