Minutemen remain winless after series against New Hampshire

By Steve Levine

Maxwell Sparr/Collegian

Going into New Hampshire this weekend, the Massachusetts hockey team was considered a heavy underdog. After Friday night’s meeting, when No. 8 UNH shut out UMass, 3-0, the Minutemen held their own against the Wildcats the next day, as the game ended in a 3-3 draw.

In the first of the Minutemen’s two games against the Wildcats (5-1-2, 3-0-1 Hockey East), they fell victim to the power play and penalty kill, an area which has plagued them all season long. UMass (0-6-3, 0-3-3 HEA) finished 0-6 on power play opportunities and also surrendered three power play goals in the first seven minutes of the second period, which proved to be insurmountable. UNH’s Matt DiGirolamo finished with 19 saves en route to his first shutout of the season.

“The first period was our golden opportunity with Teglia playing really solid,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “He [helped] in keeping the score square [at 0-0].”

Unfortunately UMass could not convert on its three first period power play chances, as the Minutemen remained winless.

It appeared UMass would register its first win the following night, but a missed call and a last-minute goal by UNH’s Blake Kessel tied the game at three before both teams played to a scoreless overtime.

A thrilling first period saw the Wildcats head into the locker room with a 2-1 advantage. After relinquishing the game’s first goal (which is becoming a prominent storyline for UMass) the Minutemen tied the score at one apiece on rookie Branden Gracel’s first collegiate goal. The play began with a big rebound off Rocco Carzo’s shot, which Adam Phillips put back on net. Gracel ultimately found the puck in the crease and put it home.

With four minutes, one second to play in the first, the Wildcats responded with their second goal, which the referees admitted shouldn’t have counted because of a missed a too-many-men-on-the-ice call.

“There were seven guys on the ice when UNH scored [its] second goal,” Cahoon said. “[The refs] have to get that one right, the puck ended up in the net.”

After a scoreless second period, the Minutemen rallied in the third period behind goaltender Paul Dainton, who made 18 saves in the frame, including five during a 5-on-3 opportunity for UNH.

T.J. Syner made it 2-2 when he took the puck alone into the offensive zone and fired a wrist shot that beat DiGirolamo on the short side.

“He’s very gifted and he’s been a first line player for a couple years now,” Cahoon said last week. “He has great ability and he’s a fabulous skater. There’s not a better skater in college hockey.”

With 1:02 left in regulation, freshman Michael Pereira gave the Minutemen a 3-2 advantage. Syner again created the chance by skating alongside the left wing and firing a shot on goal. DiGirolamo left a juicy rebound, though, and Pereira was there to put it in the back of the net.

Kessel tied the game just 14 seconds later, taking advantage of an extra man opportunity with DiGirolamo pulled from the net.   

Pereira continues to impress in his rookie season. He and Darren Rowe lead the Minutemen with five goals apiece and with seven points overall, Pereira is tied with Syner and Michael Marcou for the team lead in that category.

The Minutemen had chances in overtime, highlighted by a shortened 5-on-3 power play on which they could not convert.

“I am pleased that the young kids keep [getting] after it,” Cahoon said. “[But] we need to execute. We can’t have a 5-on-3 at the end of the game and be afraid to make a play and literally shoot the puck out of the zone ourselves without delivering it [to the net]. It’s one thing if the goaltender is making great saves and getting big time blocks and it’s another thing when you’re just beating yourself by being tentative and unsure of yourself.”

UMass will try for its first win Nov. 23, when it hosts Vermont at the Mullins Center for a 7 p.m. meeting.

Steve Levine can be reached at [email protected]