UMass drops fifth in a row, falls to sixth in Hockey East

By Jay Asser

hockAThe crowd of nearly 4,000 that attended Saturday’s game on senior night between the Massachusetts hockey team and Merrimack didn’t have much to cheer for in the final game played at the Mullins Center this regular season.

After falling in the front-end of a home-and-home the previous night at Merrimack, the No. 18-ranked Minutemen (16-15-0, 11-13-0 Hockey East) couldn’t break their losing streak, dropping their fifth-straight game.

On Saturday, UMass suffered its third shutout loss of the season as Merrimack (13-15-1, 10-11-1 HEA) completed the weekend sweep, winning 3-0.

In the first period, the Minutemen controlled play, outshooting the Warriors 13-5 and holding a 13-8 edge in faceoffs. UMass, however, wasn’t able to capitalize with a score, as the frame ended with both teams scoreless.

The Warriors swung the game around in the second period, scoring two goals while goaltender Joe Cannata continued to keep the Minutemen attack at bay. Ryan Flanigan netted the first goal of the contest, scoring nine minutes into the game for his third of the season.

Four minutes later, Merrimack tacked on a second goal as Brandon Brodhag beat UMass goaltender Dan Meyers, who received the start in place of Paul Dainton for senior night, to make the score 2-0.

In the final frame, UMass continued to search for a goal, outshooting the Warriors 12-6 for the period. Cannata, however, was unrelenting between the pipes, making 42 saves for the contest.

Merrimack added a third and final goal with three minutes, 52 seconds remaining as Stephane Da Costa recorded his 14th score of the season to put the game on ice.

Despite not scoring, UMass did manage to drastically outshoot the Warriors, 44-22, for the contest. The Minutemen, however, were 0-for-5 on the power play, while Merrimack went 1-for-5 on the man advantage.

In Friday night’s game, UMass was done in by Joe Cucci’s first career hat trick which lead Merrimack to a 4-1 victory at Lawler Arena.

Continuing strong play on their home ice, the Warriors improved to 11-2-0 in games in North Andover, Mass.

Merrimack got things goings early, racking up a two-goal lead at the end of the opening period on two power-play goals. The first came on Cucci’s fourth goal of the season, four minutes into the frame off of a loose puck to give the Warriors a lead that wasn’t surmounted by the Minutemen.

Jeff Velleca delivered the second goal of the game, beating Dainton with a shot for his seventh score of the season.

Despite outshooting the Warriors 10-6 in the period, UMass was unable to get on the board against Cannata.

After play resumed in the second frame, Merrimack quickly stretched the lead to three goals off of Cucci’s second score of the night.

Finally, with eight minutes remaining in the period, the Minutemen got into the books off their second 5-on-3 power play of the contest. After Matt Irwin sent a shot on goal that was wide off the mark, James Marcou gathered the rebound and lofted the puck into the net for his 10th goal of the season.

UMass, however, couldn’t complete the comeback and close the gap in the third frame. Cannata swatted several Minutemen opportunities, recording 21 saves in the game.

Cucci took advantage of an opportunity to complete the hat trick with under seven minutes remaining in the contest when he buried a loose puck past Dainton.

UMass was outshot 27-22 by Merrimack in the game and went 1-for-5 on the power play, while the Warriors capitalized on 2-of-3 man advantage chances.

This weekend, Merrimack closed the gap between it and UMass in the Hockey East standings. With the pair of wins, the Warriors are now only one point behind the sixth-place Minutemen, having played two fewer games.

Also, the two wins give the Warriors the season-series, an important note if a tie-break situation presents itself heading into the Hockey East Tournament.

UMass has been near the top of the conference standings for much of the season, as well as being nationally ranked. That, however, is likely to change after this weekend’s losses.

Jay Asser can be reached at [email protected]