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The Massachusetts hockey team has a much-needed 10-day holiday break coming up, but that’ll be a long time to think about the opportunity it let slip away Tuesday night.

Cade Belisle/Collegian

Trailing 3-2 to start the third period, the Minutemen failed to score on a two-man advantage that included a five-minute major penalty, and ultimately lost to Denver 5-3 in front of a snowed-out crowd of 428 at Mullins Center.

The loss sends UMass (6-12-2) into the unofficial midway point of the season on a down note. But Tuesday’s effort combined with the three-game road winning streak entering the break have the Minutemen feeling optimistic despite the disappointing record.

“I think overall with the way that we’ve played – the process of it – I’m happy. There’s probably three nights that I wasn’t” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “Other than that I’m happy with the way the guys have approached things, gone about our business. I’m certainly not happy with the results that we’ve gotten or the record as it sits right now.

“I like where we’re at right now in this last little run and hopefully we’re able to, even despite the break, springboard these last four or five efforts into the second half.”

The Minutemen appeared to have swung momentum in its favor in the final seconds of the second period when Conor Sheary went on the breakaway and was denied by Denver goaltender Sam Brittain’s pad, but drew a slashing penalty from Joey Laleggia. Josiah Didier followed with a five-minute major and game misconduct for an unsportsmanlike penalty after the whistle that gave UMass a full two-man advantage with a one-goal deficit entering the third period.

The Minutemen had plenty of opportunities to tie the game in that five-minute stretch. Ray Pigozzi hit a post and other pucks came Brittain’s way, but UMass failed to convert and was forced to spend the final 15 minutes of the game trying to recapture momentum from the Pioneers (10-6-3).

Instead, Denver’s Trevor Moore and Daniel Doremus scored one minute apart with less than five minutes left in the game to deflate the Minutemen’s chances.

“We executed plays like we wanted to, we just didn’t put one home like we wanted to,” Sheary said of the 5-on-3. “That was definitely the goal to get at least one to tie the game with the 15 minutes that would’ve been left. We didn’t do that, and when they got the fourth goal it kind of put us down a little bit more.

“It’s definitely a missed opportunity, 5-on-3’s are hard to come by.”

Denver used the break between the second and third period to strictly to discuss defending the upcoming two-man disadvantage. Pioneers coach Jim Montgomery emphasized the importance staying in shooting lanes and not letting passes get through their defensive triangle.

It worked.

“It was huge,” Montgomery said. “You could feel the energy from our bench after we killed off the 5-on-3. We still had three minutes to go of 5-on-4, but our penalty kill has been excellent all year long.”

Denver jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead one minute, 20 seconds into the game when Gabe Levin’s shot from in front of the net was deflected by a UMass stick and out of the reach of goaltender Steve Mastalerz’s (13 saves) glove.

The Minutemen tied the game at 1-1 at the 9:38 mark of the first period on a power-play goal assisted by Adam Phillips and Steven Iacobellis. It was one of two goals Tuesday night for Power, who is now tied for second on the team in points (13) this season.

Ty Loney put the Pioneers back in the lead 3:35 into the second period on a spinning backhand goal from the slot off a feed by Laleggia that beat Mastalerz blocker side to make it a 2-1 game.

Denver doubled its advantage less than five minutes later when Moore’s wrist shot from in front zipped past Mastalerz for his team-high seventh goal of the season.

But UMass found a spark 16:44 into the second period when Michael Pereira’s shot from the slot was deflected, leaving a loose puck up for grabs that Sheary put past Brittain glove side to cut the Pioneers advantage to 3-2.

The Minutemen are off until Dec. 29 when they take on Quinnipiac in Hartford, Conn., on the first night of the UConn Hockey Classic.

Nick Canelas can be reached at ncanelas@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.

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