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March 22, 2017

UMass hockey competes hard, falls to No. 10 Providence College in overtime

(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

PROVIDENCE – The Massachusetts hockey team and Providence College were deadlocked 1-1 at the conclusion of 60 minutes of play Saturday evening at Schneider Arena, something that appeared inconceivable after the No. 10-ranked Friars (20-9-5, 12-7-3 Hockey East Association) trounced the Minutemen (5-27-2, 2-19-1 HEA) 6-2 the previous night at Mullins Center.

After killing all eight of PC’s penalties in the first three periods, and after goaltender Ryan Wischow stopped 40 of the Friars initial 41 shots on net, a critical blunder spoiled UMass’ chance of snapping its 14-game losing streak in the regular season finale.

Defenseman Jake Horton had the puck on his stick in his own zone, looking for an apparent attempt to clear the puck after the Friars had dominated time of possession early in the extra session.

No sooner did Horton take a stride than did he collide with fellow defenseman Callum Fryer, who couldn’t get enough spacing from his teammate and turned the puck back over to PC. The Friars capitalized on the mistake, and Garrett Gamez scored his second of two goals on a redirection to close out the regular season in dramatic fashion.

“I thought we played a hell of a game,” Wischow said. “The guys played pretty solid defensively for us and they kept pucks to the outside. It’s easy to get into a game when you can control your rebounds and I was controlling my rebounds for most of the night. It was a good game. It was the story of the season for us.”

After Gamez beat Wischow glove side on an odd-man rush just 4:46 into regulation, the Minutemen gave it all they conceivably had for the final 55-plus minutes of the contest.

UMass fought its way back and overcame a 42-20 shot differential and capitalized on its most opportunistic chance with just over eight minutes to play in the second, as Ray Pigozzi scored his seventh goal of the season to knot the game at one on an extraordinary effort from Niko Hildenbrand to keep the puck in the zone.

The Minutemen continued to battle through the third period, exchanging chances with PC and nearly took the lead with under five minutes to go.

Defenseman Shane Bear rifled a shot off a left-to-right pass from Steven Iacobellis (assist) that was stopped by PC netminder Hayden Hawkey (19 saves), who came across the crease just in time to close what was a once an open net.

The Friars totaled 18 shots on the power play, and Wischow stopped each one flung his way. The UMass defense did its part in disrupting the potent PC offensive attack, blocking 23 of the Friars shots, which featured some crucial deflects on the penalty kill, including a 5-on-3 in the second period for a full two minutes as Hildenbrand and Ivan Chukarov committed penalties on the same breakaway.

“When the guys are blocking shots like that it gives me so much more energy to play better in front of them,” Wischow said. “The 5-on-3 there in the second gave so much energy to our penalty kill. We were phenomenal tonight in blocking pucks and keeping shots to the outside. I had to make a few good saves toward the end but that’s what happens.”

“They did an excellent job – a really good job,” Minutemen coach Greg Carvel said of his penalty kill. “Niko Hildenbrand making some big blocks early was a huge part of that. I thought we did a good job not allowing them to set up very often. It’s on us, we can’t put ourselves in a position to take penalties.

“Our game has to be more pristine. If we can just play these guys five-on-five and both teams get two or three power plays, I like our chances.”

Much like the 2016-17 season, the Minutemen played their hearts out and had their chances to execute. They competed hard against a team whose skill overpowers those on the visiting bench. But, as the past 15 games have shown time and again, it wasn’t enough to close the gap and send UMass back to Amherst with a victory.

“It’s unfortunate,” Carvel added. “We took a penalty in the first minute of the game and we didn’t have the start. We spotted them a goal, as opposed to three goals last night, and then we started to play. I thought the rest of the game was pretty even.”

Kyle DaLuz can be reached at kdaluz@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Kyle_DaLuz.

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