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UMass hockey falls flat in 5-2 loss against Maine

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(Sam Anderson/Daily Collegian)

After a weekend that saw the Massachusetts hockey team dominated by Boston College in an 8-0 loss on Friday night and a blown third-period lead in a 6-4 loss to Vermont on Saturday, it didn’t seem like it could get any worse for the Minutemen.

But it did.

Maine scored twice in the second period and twice again in the third en route to a 5-2 victory over UMass (7-15-4, 2-10-4 Hockey East). It was the first road win of the year the Black Bears (6-15-6, 3-8-2 HEA), who was previously averaging under two goals per game on the road.

It was the seventh loss in a row for the Minutemen, and it dropped them to a dismal 1-13 in their last 14 games. With the loss, UMass dropped back into a tie for last place in Hockey East with the Black Bears and Connecticut, although the Minutemen have played three more league games than either of their cellar-dwelling counterparts.

Maine wasted no time establishing control of the game. Just one minute, 22 seconds into the first period, Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick Blaine Byron blasted a slap shot through traffic in front – a theme for the Black Bears on the evening – to give Maine a 1-0 lead. Byron finished with a goal, assist and plus-2 rating, as well as being named first star of the contest.

At 11:57 of the opening period, UMass defenseman Ivan Chukarov unleashed a slapshot that tied the game a 1-1 on the power play. It was the first goal of Chukarov’s career, and for the remainder of the period it seemed like the Minutemen had started to turn the momentum of the game in their favor.

But just 23 seconds into the second period, Will Merchant put Brendan Robbins in all alone with a pass behind the UMass defense, and Robbins converted to give Maine the lead again. Later in the second, Conor Riley gave the Black Bears a 3-1 lead with a snipe through traffic that Minutemen goaltender Nic Renyard never had a chance to see. UMass would finish the second period with just six shots on net compared to 10 – including two goals – by Maine.

“I think the second period we got away from some of the things, at least offensively, we were having success with in terms of getting us in off the rush and creating opportunities off the cycle,” Minutemen John Micheletto said.

Renyard was pulled to start the third period in favor of backup Alex Wakaluk in what Micheletto called a “coaches decision”, but looked sharp throughout the night. The freshman made 22 saves in his 40 minutes of action, and his play in the second period was the primary reason Maine held just a two-goal lead going into the third.

The goaltending switch seemed to have an effect, as UMass scored again on the power play at 6:13 of the third when Ray Pigozzi set up Austin Plevy with a perfect pass to the front of the crease.

But just over two minutes later, Maine capitalized on a scrum in front of Wakaluk to regain its two-goal lead. Brian Morgan was credited with the goal, and the Black Bears led 4-2. Eleven seconds later, Steven Swavely scored on a two-on-one to give Maine a 5-2 advantage and the game was effectively over.

“It was great for us to get five goals,” Black Bears coach Red Gendron said. “We’ve struggled all year long to score goals so that was positive, no question about it.

“We got good performances from everybody in our lineup. That’s the best part of tonight’s game, the way I see it,” Gendron added.

Despite scoring twice on the power play, the Minutemen struggled offensively at even strength, landing just 16 shots on goal during five-on-five play.

“I thought we had good five on five play in the first and some spurts in the third,” Micheletto said. “I didn’t think we did enough to get ourselves in and keep the play off the wall, which is to their advantage.”

UMass will try to regroup tomorrow night against the same Maine team in game two of their series. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. at Mullins Center.

Ross Gienieczko can be reached at rgieniec@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @RossGien.

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