The Massachusetts hockey team has had more than its share of ups and downs early this season, but one thing that has stayed consistent through its first 11 games has been the play of the special teams units.
Saturday night was no exception as the Minutemen registered both a shorthanded and power play goal to earn a 2-2 tie with No. 18 Quinnipiac at the Mullins Center in their first non-conference game since the season opener against Connecticut on Oct. 12.
With Saturday’s efforts, UMass (4-5-2, 3-5-1 Hockey East Association) improved its power play success rate to 21.4 percent while the penalty killing unit held the Bobcats (8-3-2, 4-0-0 Eastern College Athletic Conference) to just four shots in two power play efforts to improve the Minutemen’s overall mark to 86 percent on the season.
“It’s a huge influence in the way the game’s called today,” UMass coach John Micheletto said in his postgame press conference. “It’s important, it’s one of the few sports situations where you have an extra man to take advantage of so you talk about it having a huge momentum swing one way or the other, both on the power play and the penalty killing unit.
“I’m happy that the guys really embrace what we’re doing. It’s not that we spend hours and hours on special teams, but I think the guys understand the concepts of what we’re trying to do, and they’re working hard and executing well so it’s been a huge boost for us.”
But like the consistent play of the special teams units this season, the inability to close out games has been another constant for the Minutemen this season.
UMass appeared to have the game in control, outshooting Quinnipiac 17-7 in the second period and taking a 2-1 lead after senior forward Rocco Carzo scored a power play goal nine minutes, 33 seconds into the frame off assists from Branden Gracel and Joel Hanley.
But in the third period, that all changed.
The Bobcats outshot the Minutemen 11-7 in the final 20 minutes of regulation, and got the equalizer 7:34 into the period on a goal by Mike Dalhuisen.
While sophomore Kevin Boyle was effective in net for most of the night, making 24 saves on 26 shots faced, that goal was one he’d probably like to have back. Dalhuisen simply flung the shot from the point towards the net that snuck by Boyle in the top corner.
“The saying is that the scoreboard paints no pictures,” Micheletto said. “That’s a good lesson. You get pucks and bodies to the net, Kevin didn’t have good eyes on that puck, sometimes those things just flutter in. No matter what it goes down as the game-tier.”
The overtime period was relatively uneventful as neither team could get a shot on goal for the entire five minutes of play.
Micheletto was most frustrated by the fact that his team couldn’t sustain any consistent play, which inevitably cost them a chance to win.
“I just wish we played better from start to finish,” he said. “We talk about worrying about the process, it was a sloppy game for both teams. It just wasn’t real crisp, there wasn’t a lot of great passing plays. We had some opportunities I thought particularly in the second that (Quinnipiac goalie Eric) Hartzell was a major factor on … overall I wish we were better from puck drop to buzzer.”
While coming up short in non-conference play is certainly easier for a team to swallow, Carzo was still not happy with the end result.
“It’s tough,” he said. “We want to win every game, obviously, I know the whole team wants to win every game. I mean, no game is just a walkthrough, no game is more important than any other.”
UMass got off to a slow start as sloppy play on both ends of the ice left the Minutemen down 1-0 just 3:24 into the game as Bryce Van Brabant beat Boyle from the slot.
UMass did respond with a man down when Kevin Czepiel found Conor Sheary all alone in front of the net at the 15:47 mark, beating Hartzell (27 saves) to even the score at one apiece.
Sheary extended his point streak to five straight games with the shorthanded goal for a team-high nine points on the year.
Hanley was credited with one of his two assists on the night on Sheary’s goal, giving the junior defenseman his eighth career multi-point effort.
The Minutemen resume Hockey East action with a home-and-home against Northeastern this weekend, starting with Friday’s 7 p.m. contest at the Mullins Center.
Nick Canelas can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.