The last time the Massachusetts hockey team took on Providence, a Nov. 9 meeting at the Mullins Center, the Minutemen played nearly mistake-free hockey in a 4-0 shutout of the Friars.
UMass put four on the board once again Friday night, but this time around the Friars came out with an offensive attack that was non-existent in the November matchup, as they capitalized on mistake after mistake, outlasting the Minutemen 5-4.
UMass coach John Micheletto appreciated the offensive effort put on by the Minutemen, but the problems on the defensive end is what stood out most to him.
“We certainly created enough opportunities, the problem is that we gave up too many,” Micheletto said. “It seemed like each one of those that we gave up wound up being in the back of our net.”
The Minutemen went on an all-out attack on goaltender Jon Gillies, who made his first start since returning from a gold medal triumph for Team USA in the World Junior Hockey Championships, but their constant pressing allowed PC to catch them off guard on the defensive end on several occasions.
“We’re going to have to press to score a lot of goals,” Micheletto said. “That’s going to create a couple of odd-man rushes against us every once and awhile.”
The most costly odd-man rush came in the third period, when UMass was trying to capitalize on a man advantage. After the power play unit failed to convert on three consecutive shots, the Friars sent the puck up ice and had a two-on-one in the Minutemen zone.
As he closed in on the net, sophomore forward Stefan Demopolous faked a shot left, causing UMass’ Joel Hanley to fall to his knees. He then brought the puck to the right side of the net, using Hanley’s body as a screen before backhanding it past Kevin Boyle.
That goal swung the momentum away from the Minutemen, who had been on their way to pulling off a big comeback.
Trailing 4-2 late in the second period, defenseman Darren Rowe received a feed from Shane Walsh and swept the puck quickly across the front of the crease before backhanding it in. It was his third point of the game, after assisting on goals in the first and second periods.
Less than a minute and a half later, Branden Gracel and Conor Sheary broke up the ice collecting the attention of three defenders. Gracel sent a shot wide, collected his own rebound off the boards, and sent a pass to a wide open Conor Allen who sent the puck past Gillies for the equalizer.
It was the third time in the game that the Minutemen came back from deficits to knot the score. In the first, after Boyle surrendered an early goal to Derek Army, UMass’ Patrick Kiley answered with his first goal of the year, scoring off his own rebound.
Army scored again late in the period, but Conor Sheary rocked a slap shot from right below the blue line to the back of the net to even the score at two, early in the second. But each time the Minutemen tied it, Providence would come back with another.
However, starting the third period after the two quick goals to end the second, the Minutemen seemed to come out of the locker room flying. After being outshot 25-18 in the first two periods, UMass kept the Friars on their toes throughout the final period, outshooting them 12-5. But all it took was that one mistake.
“Anytime you come back from a deficit, you definitely have the momentum,” Boyle said. “You definitely want to keep that going, but unfortunately we hit some posts, didn’t get some bounces, and it just didn’t come out for us today.”
Though Micheletto was not happy about the mistakes the team made, he did express enthusiasm about the comeback effort.
“I think that for the most part our game was good,” Micheletto said. “We gave up some pretty big opportunities and those opportunities wound up getting rung up on the scoreboard. So we either need to minimize those chances or we need to stop (them) from becoming (goals).”
But for Boyle, the odd-man rushes were too much to handle. After facing just 17 shots in his shutout against Providence two months ago, he faced 13 in the first period alone, and 30 in total. Despite him giving up five goals, Micheletto saw the advantages the Friars were creating, and didn’t pin the mistakes solely on his goaltender.
“We need everyone to be better than we were (Friday),” Micheletto said. “Kevin got put in some difficult situations (Friday). There were enough fingerprints on the goals against to not single out one player.”
The two teams will face off yet again, Saturday night, this time in Providence for a 7 p.m. tilt.
Taylor Snow can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @taylorcsnow.