Late goal from Branden Gracel gives UMass 2-2 tie with BC
CHESTNUT HILL – Branden Gracel came into the weekend sporting a whole new look.
He completely cut off the long locks that draped down to the back of his shoulders in favor of a shorter, standard haircut. Not only did Gracel look like a whole different person, but he also looked like a whole new hockey player.
The same Gracel that had been held without a goal since Oct. 18 scored on consecutive nights for the Massachusetts hockey team against No. 7 Boston College, and netted the equalizer 18 minutes, 34 seconds into the third period to earn the Minutemen a much-needed Hockey East point with a 2-2 tie in front of 6,248 at Conte Forum on Friday night.
“He had (one goal, one assist) with eight shots on goal and he was a plus-1. Sometimes the stat sheet doesn’t always reward you with how hard you play or how much you attend to the details of the game,” UMass coach John Micheletto said of Gracel’s performance on Friday, “but I think the score sheet does justice to Gracel’s game (Friday). I’m very happy.”
Trailing 2-1 with 2:34 to play, Steven Guzzo took a hard hit to the head in the middle of the ice from Steve Santini that left the UMass forward down on the ice for an extended period of time. While Guzzo was receiving attention from the training staff, Santini was disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct and the Minutemen found themselves on the power play for the rest of regulation.
What followed was a Gracel shot from the left circle that deflected off an Eagles’ defenseman and found the top corner of the net to tie the game and force overtime.
“I thought it was a little bit of a dirty hit. It hit (Guzzo) a little bit high,” Gracel said. “Everybody was excited to get back out on the ice and I don’t think there was a single person on our bench that didn’t think we were gonna score there.”
For Gracel, it was more than just a game-tying goal. With three points in the series with BC, Gracel looked like the player that led UMass (3-7-2, 1-4-2 Hockey East) in scoring with 34 points a season ago.
After scoring three goals in the first four games this season, Gracel hit a scoring slump and was relegated to the third line alongside Guzzo, a longtime linemate of his, and a combination of Brandon Wahlin and Shane Walsh over the last three weeks.
Gracel finally looked comfortable in his new role in the last two games and the results were clear.
“I lost my game for a bit there and tried to simplify it and look back to the reasons why I play this game and it’s because I love it,” Gracel said. “When you get back to the basics and simplify things everything else kind of falls into place.”
Gracel’s first contribution to the game came 13:15 into the first period when he hit Ray Pigozzi right in front of the net with a pass from behind the goal line. The freshman made a move with his stick and beat BC goaltender Brian Billett in the top right corner for his third goal of the season.
But the Eagles (7-2-2, 4-0-1 HEA) didn’t need long to respond. Ryan Fitzgerald tied the game at 1-1 87 seconds later with a goal from the edge of the left circle to beat Mac Haight blocker side. Junior defenseman Danny Linell intercepted a pass at the offensive blue line and fed Kevin Hayes in the slot. Hayes then found Fitzgerald to his left and the freshman finished the rest.
BC pulled ahead 2-1 less than three minutes later when Austin Cangelosi scored on a wrist shot from the right circle to put the puck past Haight’s glove and into the back of the net.
That was all the Eagles could get past the freshman netminder the rest of the way, however. Haight capped off an impressive weekend with 26 saves and shut out BC during a 15-shot second period, giving the Minutemen more than they could’ve hoped from a player who started the season as the third-string goalie.
“He had a great weekend,” Micheletto said. “I’m very excited for him. He stepped up and gave us a lot of energy and I’m sure if he were sitting at the (press conference) he’d be the first one to say that we minimized the looks that he was seeing.”
Even with Haight’s efforts, the hero for UMass Friday was Gracel. And the Minutemen will continue to need those types of efforts to get some wins moving forward.
“I’m getting back to playing the way I was at the beginning of the year, and we’re all gonna need to have a big role,” Gracel said. “There’s a bunch of guys that need to keep their game up or step their game up a little bit more. I’m definitely gonna be a big part of that if we wanna get the wins under our belt in Hockey East and all around.”
UMass resumes play next Friday when it hosts Vermont at 7 p.m.
Nick Canelas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.