CHESTNUT HILL – It’s safe to say that Conte Forum has been nothing short of nightmarish for the Massachusetts hockey team in the past four years.
Eleven consecutive losses in Chestnut Hill dating back to 2007 says it all for a UMass team that has failed time and again to establish itself as a true contender in the Hockey East Association. The Minutemen have had their season end in Conte each of the last three years following two-game sweeps at the hands of Boston College in the Hockey East Quarterfinals. The first two games of this season proved to be no better.
UMass blew a 3-0 third period lead at home Oct. 19 to eventually fall 5-4 to the Eagles in overtime. Then, at the “House of Horrors” in Chestnut Hill Nov. 4, the Minutemen held a 2-1 lead in the third period, only to see it quickly evaporate before their eyes in a 3-2 heartbreaker.
Friday night seemed to have a similar feel to the first two meetings. UMass dominated play for the first two periods, but BC did just enough to hang around heading into the final frame. It looked like a Minutemen loss was inevitable.
UMass may have outplayed the Eagles throughout, and certainly looked like the better team, but at no point did anyone, myself included, believe that this team would hang on to win the game. That gut feeling was affirmed when BC’s Steven Whitney tied the game four minutes, eight seconds into the third period.
Here we go again.
But just 10 minutes later, the Minutemen grew up before our very eyes, scoring three goals in a matter of four minutes to put the game away, exorcising the demons that have haunted UMass – especially the seniors – for the past four years.
“It’s a matter of learning lessons,” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “You collect valuable lessons along the way. Sometimes those are positive lessons that you learn from, sometimes there’s negative lessons. Losing a third period lead here a couple of times in the early part of the season is something that we didn’t want to taste anymore.”
UMass silenced any critics and fans that picked BC to get the win.
Being his senior class’ first win in what was potentially their last trip to Conte Forum, Micheletto called it something they could finally “check off the list.”
The win didn’t just satisfy the seniors. Captain Kevin Czepiel, a senior, said the win was important for those who have graduated in recent years, like T.J. Syner, who gave Czepeil some support before the game.
While it is a nice accomplishment, is that all this win will signify? People want to throw around the term ‘season-changing’ to describe what happened on Friday.
But given this team and the UMass hockey program’s track record, I’m hesitant to call it that.
Yes, it was a milestone win for a senior class that has lacked in that department, but it is meaningless if the Minutemen go out and get swept in Vermont next weekend.
Remember, this is the same team that appeared to have thrown away a rare opportunity for home ice in the Hockey East Quarterfinals by being swept by Providence last weekend, just two weeks after winning the Ledyard National Bank Classic against No. 8 Dartmouth on New Year’s Eve (that win was also called ‘season-changing’).
Anyone who has followed this team for the past five years can relate to this scenario, and can’t help but expect the worst to come over the next two months.
Since 2008, UMass has consistently found a way to crush the hopes of its fans with second-half meltdowns. Until the Minutemen can go out and prove that this year is different, it’s hard not to expect anything less.
This win, though, benefits the current junior class, led by the likes of Branden Gracel, Michael Pereira and Conor Sheary – all major contributors in Friday’s upset. UMass currently has 14 juniors on its roster, and I’m sure these men, as seniors, will be primed and ready for a special 2013-2014 season.
Going on the road against the defending national champions, and facing the type of adversity the Minutemen overcame in that third period on Friday, that group now knows what it’s like to get a signature win despite losing a third period lead for the sixth time this season.
When asked what was different in the third period against BC, Pereira said: “… kind of just bearing down, we had a conversation between the second and third (periods), you know, leave all doubts in here. … We’ve been the better team all night, so don’t change what you’re doing. Just play with a little heart, and a little guts, and we came out with a gutty performance here.”
Not only does this team believe in one another, but it believes in its first-year coach, whom Czepiel praised for getting arguably his biggest win in his short time as head man.
There is no guarantee that this win will actually have any bearings on what happens down the road, whether it be this year or the next.
But for now, at least it’s something the players can check off the list.