For the first half of Tuesday’s game against Northeastern, the Massachusetts hockey team looked like the playoff-hungry team that was fighting to hold on to its playoff spot.
But midway through the second period the Minutemen (10-16-2, 7-13-1 Hockey East Association) lost their focus, took their foot off the gas and let the Huskies (9-16-3, 5-13-3 HEA) back into the game. The loss cost the team two valuable points within the conference.
The turning point came when, up 3-1, goalie Steve Mastalerz mishandled a dump in behind the net, having the puck carom out in front for an easy tap-in for Northeastern forward Robbie Vrolyk. Afterwards, the wind went out of the sales for the Minutemen.
“You got a two goal lead, we need to maintain the puck and maintain the momentum, or reel the momentum back in at those opportunities when you lose it,” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “Just like in basketball, everyone gets their runs. You got to rein it back in. Giving up those next two is not the way we play.”
The only spark the Minutemen showed the rest of the game came when junior Michael Pereira put UMass back on top, 4-3, with his second goal of the game heading into the third period. But coming out of the break, the slow-footed Minutemen were back and it was Pereira who found himself on the wrong end of a lazy penalty, getting called for hooking early in the final period.
“It’s difficult to get the momentum going when you get called for a hooking penalty 15 seconds into the third period,” Micheletto said.
Despite killing off the penalty, UMass was never able to find its energy and never tested backup goaltender Bryan Mountain, who replaced starting goalie Chris Rawlings at the beginning of the third period.
With the game still tied, the Minutemen found themselves with a chance to salvage a point, or possibly two, but once again, the Huskies were the team with all the energy and momentum, outshooting UMass 6-0 in the extra frame, before notching the game-winner.
Because the game was the third in five nights for the Minutemen, it is a possibility that fatigue caught up with the home team. But, ultimately, the Minutemen were in the same position as Northeastern, which seemed to never stop pushing forward, even when down 3-1.
“When we got down 3-1 in the second period there was a believability on our bench, there was a poise, a composure on our bench that our guys knew they were coming back,” Huskies coach Jim Madigan said. “From a coaching perspective, it’s great when you have that feeling, you see it. So there was some conviction from our guys.”
Blowing leads has been a frequent occurrence for this UMass team, but the meltdown in Tuesday’s game saw the team’s energy and focus completely disappear once it surrendered the second goal. The Minutemen were never able to find their stride after that and played the remaining 33 minutes back on their heels, allowing Northeastern to bring the pressure to them.
“No matter where it is anymore, it doesn’t matter,” Micheletto said. “Home or away, we obviously want to perform well in front of our home fans and make them proud of what we do because we represent them. But, again, we’ve got to learn to do it right every time, at home or on the road.”
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @MDC_Strohecker.