Tiefenwerth and Pereira join forces, lead balanced UMass attack
BOSTON – The last time K.J. Tiefenwerth played alongside Michael Pereira in a hockey game, the two led Avon Old Farms Prep School in Connecticut to a New England Division I Prep Championship.
The two were reunited on Saturday night as the freshman joined Pereira and Branden Gracel on the second line in the absence of Troy Power due to injury, propelling the Massachusetts hockey team with three points, including his first collegiate goal, in the Minutemen’s 6-3 win over Northeastern at Matthews Arena.
“I think (Tiefenwerth) had a little extra jump in his step (Saturday) playing with Mike Pereira, old prep school teammate, so I’m excited about K.J.,” UMass coach John Micheletto said.
The former Boston College commit’s goal gave the Minutemen (5-6-2, 4-6-1 Hockey East Association) their first lead of the night with just 19.3 seconds remaining in the first period. The goal was set up off a faceoff win by Gracel to Joel Hanley, who found Tiefenwerth out in front to beat Northeastern goaltender Chris Rawlings glove side.
The Bellmore, N.Y., native was simply relieved to get that first one out of the way.
“It’s a relief,” Tiefenwerth said. “I mean you know it’s been a few games since I scored a goal so to have the first one off my back is definitely a relief. So I’m just happy that I got it out of the way and hopefully there are many more to come.”
Tiefenwerth had two assists in the third period, but it was that third assist that may have looked most familiar as he and Gracel helped set up Pereira for an empty-net goal at 17:41 in the frame to cap off a big night for the second line.
It may have been Tiefenwerth’s first night on the scoresheet, but Micheletto was not surprised by his success, saying that he’s been putting those kinds of efforts together on a nightly basis this season.
“The great thing about college sports is you take advantage of the opportunities when they come to you, and K.J.’s a great example of that (Saturday)” Micheletto said of Tiefenwerth. “He’s been a productive player for us up to this point, not on the scoresheet, but he’s done a very nice job, he’s helped us in a lot of different areas.”
Tiefenwerth’s efforts were just a small portion of what turned out to be a big night for multiple players on the scoresheet.
Gracel and Tiefenwerth were just two of five Minutemen to have multi-point nights on the same goaltender, Rawlings, that shut them out despite getting 31 shots on him on Friday night. Rocco Carzo (two goals), Hanley (goal, assist) and Steven Guzzo (two assists) also chipped in with multi-point efforts.
“I love it,” Micheletto said of his team’s balance. “I hope it happens more and more. We’re getting production from everybody: it’s nice to see Adam (Phillips) finish a beautiful goal there at the end, and Joel (Hanley) jump and join on the rush, nothing better than an empty-netter from Michael Pereira as well so like I say I thought we had a lot of guys who were very good (Saturday) and it’s hard to single out just a small handful that showed up on the scoresheet.”
While there are plenty of teams that have one player in particular that they rely on to score goals and create offense, UMass has taken pride in the fact that it has all four lines chipping in offensively rather than one singular person.
“We don’t really have anybody who’s broken out and been our elite goal scorer, so it’s nice having a few kids putting the puck in the net,” Tiefenwerth said. “We had a few kids putting them in, we had Gracel, Pereira putting them in, Rocco’s been on a streak, so it’s good having goal-scoring coming from all areas so we’re not relying on one line or one kid in particular.”
The ability to get quick shots off and create more rebounding opportunities turned out to be the difference-maker as the Minutemen got 46 shots on Rawlings, many of which were quality chances.
Micheletto credited the team’s success offensively on Saturday as opposed to Friday’s struggles to the leadership his captains – Carzo and Kevin Czepiel.
“I can’t say enough about Rocco Carzo and Kevin Czepiel and the job that they’re doing as captains,” Micheletto said. “We talked to them (Friday) and made sure that the guys were taking away the right things, that we weren’t too disappointed with the result, that we’re happy with the process, that we were focused on moving forward, and they took that message and really spread it amongst the guys.
“I thought our focus (Saturday) and the energy that those two guys brought (was clear). Rocco shows up on the scoresheet early, Kevin makes a big play to lead the Adam Phillips goal, which I think is a critical goal in the third period. So not only are those guys the emotional center of our team, they’re also showing up on the scoresheet.”
Nick Canelas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.