Freshman Alex Wakaluk learns from first game in net for UMass hockey
Steve Mastalerz remembers what it was like to play in his first game for the Massachusetts hockey team and not have it go according to plan.
It came on Nov. 4, 2011, at New Hampshire in what turned out to be a 7-3 loss. Five of the Wildcats’ goals came while Mastalerz was in net, which led to him being pulled in favor of Kevin Boyle in the third period.
So before freshman goalie Alex Wakaluk took the ice for the first time for UMass on Saturday against Maine, Mastalerz gave the rookie some advice.
“I just said have fun with it,” Mastalerz said. “My first game I know I was really nervous and I didn’t do too well. So just don’t be nervous and it’s just a game here. We’ve done it plenty of times before. So go out there, enjoy it, have fun with it and just see what you can do.”
And just like Mastalerz’ first game, Saturday didn’t end in a win for Wakaluk and the Minutemen.
After keeping the Black Bears off the scoreboard in the first period, Maine struck for six goals in the second frame, three of which came on the power play, to put the game out of reach for UMass.
Despite allowing six goals in the second period, the Minutemen stressed that the blame didn’t fall solely on Wakaluk.
“The breakdowns that we had in front of him wound up in the back of the net not solely due to Alex,” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “It was a team effort and you win the same way. So again it was unfortunate because we would’ve like to for him to walk away from his first experience having it be a little bit more positive.”
But overall, Micheletto said that he was happy with the start that his young goalie had and the way that he “continued to battle throughout the course of the second period despite the results not going his way.”
Wakaluk’s first start came after Mastalerz put on a strong showing Friday night against the Black Bears in which he made 34 saves, many of which came at crucial points late in the game, although the Minutemen lost 3-2 in overtime on a power play goal.
Mastalerz started UMass’ first five games of the season, including Friday’s game, so Micheletto felt like Saturday was the perfect opportunity to give Wakaluk a start in a non-conference game.
“If we were gonna turn to Alex in the future, we wanted to give him a game,” he said, “We thought the opportunity to play a game non-conference would be a better first game for him to get his feet wet.”
Micheletto also said that the coaching staff has been discussing giving Wakaluk a start for a while now, but Mastalerz’ play in net earned him a chance to start multiple games in a row.
Wakaluk’s start raises another question though: is there now a competition in net for the Minutemen?
“There’s always a competition of course,” Wakaluk said. “But at the same time, we’re a support system as well even though we compete against each other.”
A goalie competition is not something that would be new for UMass after Boyle and Mastalerz competed for minutes throughout the entire 2012-13 season.
The position of trying to compete against fellow teammates while also trying to do what is best for the team can be difficult. Micheletto compared the situation that his goalies are in to that of two quarterbacks battling it out for a chance to lead their offense. And that competition is a good thing for the team, according to Micheletto.
“Competition breeds the best in everybody,” he said.
As for this season’s battle for minutes in goal, Micheletto is looking for Wakaluk to continue to develop and for Mastalerz to continue his strong start, which dates back to this past summer.
“When you have guys right now, obviously Steve’s experience and the work that he put in, in the summer time is really showing through in terms of his production on the ice,” Micheletto said.
“I’m sure Alex’s game will get better as he gets more adapted to the college game and you evaluate your starters whether it’s a matter in the lineup from a game to game basis,” he added. “Right now I think Steve’s certainly got the lead in that competition and we’ll continue to evaluate it as it goes forward.”
Cameron McDonough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Cam_McDonough.