Thirteen games into the Massachusetts hockey team’s season, there seems to be a noticeable difference in the squad’s play than years past.
With a new coach in John Micheletto, change was to be expected, but not many expected sophomore goaltender Kevin Boyle to take control as the consistent No. 1 option in net so early. And a year after a goaltending carousel that left the team with questions going into this season, it seems to be having a lasting impact.
“I know just from my own perception, he’s had a calming influence,” Micheletto said. “He’s not a kid that gets real riled up. He’s not a kid that scrambles around in net a whole lot. He’s got a lot of poise to his demeanor and that has a very calming effect on us.”
The Manalapan, N.J., native took hold of the reins early in his career, playing in 21 games for the Minutemen last season as a freshman, with 19 of them coming in starts. Although he saw action in the majority of the team’s games, it was tough to dub him the No. 1 guy for UMass, as he struggled to find consistency in two-game weekends.
“When I worked with (goaltender coach) Mike Buckley, he’s big on mental preparation,” Boyle said. “I knew coming out of last year that consistency was a big issue and I knew that I had to work on that, so I had a bunch of meetings with him to see how I could work on that and it definitely helped me out.”
The change has been drastic.
Despite Micheletto not coming out and naming a No. 1 goalie and basing starts off of practice performances, Boyle has seemed to cement himself as the go-to guy so far this season, starting in 10 of the Minutemen’s 13 games.
His numbers aren’t too shabby either. He’s posted a 5-3-2 record – the only goalie to win a game for UMass this season – while sporting a .936 save percentage and a 1.67 goals-against average, both good for top 10 in the country. His strong performances in games have given him a leg up over fellow goalies Jeff Teglia and Steve Mastalerz in practice.
“He gets the benefit of those (games) in his evaluation, so he comes into the week already with a bump in his grade,” Micheletto said.
But where did the transformation from last year to this year come from?
Following his freshman year, Boyle spent very little time over the summer relaxing. After spending the first couple weeks of summer vacation in New Jersey, he got back into action, gearing up for the upcoming season.
“I spent about two or three weeks up in Canada working with a goalie coach I know,” Boyle said. “For the rest of the summer, I went and lived in Beverly, Mass., with UMass’ old goalie Paul Dainton. … And obviously going to the New York Islanders camp definitely helped a lot.”
The improved Boyle has helped the Minutemen get off to a respectable start this season, as they currently sit in a tie for fifth place in a competitive Hockey East conference. UMass is also the lone team in the country that can claim to have beaten top-ranked New Hampshire, in large part thanks to Boyle’s 25 save effort in the 2-1 overtime win.
After only starting in one of the Minutemen’s first three games, Boyle has seen his playing time increase, starting in nine of the team’s last 10 games and not losing a game by more than a goal. The consistency in play is something else that Boyle can attribute to his early-season success.
“It definitely helps with the confidence,” Boyle said. “Confidence is a big part of being a goalie. Being able to play well week-in, week-out, every game, every practice is definitely something that helps out with your mind set.”
Boyle can expect to see his playing time continue into the New Year, as Mastalerz has been sidelined with a lower-body injury, leaving Teglia as the only other option in goal. Unfortunately for Teglia, his one start on the season did not fair too well. He was pulled 16 minutes into the 8-2 loss to UMass-Lowell after giving up three goals on eight shots.
Boyle will continue to be the key to the postseason for UMass. With the conference once again very competitive, a strong goalie can prove crucial in a team getting a top four seed or a bottom seed heading into the playoffs, something the Minutemen would like to avoid once again this year.
UMass will be right in the thick of things when it picks up conference play on Jan. 11 against Providence, but where the team ends up come playoff time will hinge heavily on its goaltending.
Fortunately, Boyle is ready to be the No. 1 guy.
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @MDC_Strohecker.