Beating Milner key to topping No. 3 BC

By Nick Canelas

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Taylor C. Snow/Collegian

One thing stood between the Massachusetts hockey team and a win in the Hockey East Quarterfinals against Boston College last season: Parker Milner.

The senior goaltender made 58 saves and allowed three goals in two games as the Eagles swept the Minutemen despite being outshot in both games. BC would go on to win the conference tournament and eventually the national championship.

Milner simply dominated in the NCAA Tournament last year, going 4-0 with a 0.50 goals-against average and a .982 save percentage, earning him All-Tournament honors as well as being named Most Outstanding player in the Frozen Four and in the Northeast Regionals.

But that chance to play in the postseason was not something that was handed to the Pittsburgh native. He had to earn it.

After playing a combined 22 games in his first two seasons, Milner battled through a three-goalie rotation throughout the early parts of last season. But he eventually secured the job, starting 34 games and finishing with an NCAA-best 29-5 record with a 1.66 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage.

“Parker really had to buckle down to win that job so that he was the night-in, night-out goaltender for them,” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “To be battle-tested mentally as well as physically is something that’s really valuable for any goaltender.”

Of Milner’s five loses last season, one came in his lone appearance at the Mullins Center last season as the Minutemen went on to upset the then-No. 1 Eagles, 4-2, back on Nov. 5.

However, Milner did win his other three starts against UMass last season and could potentially serve as the difference between a win or loss for the Minutemen come Friday at 7 p.m. when No. 3 BC make its return to Amherst.

“He presents a big target, he’s a relatively calm goaltender, you’re not going to get him scrambling around his crease a lot,” Micheletto said.

While Milner did suffer the 3-1 loss in the Eagles (0-1) season opener at Matthews Arena against Northeastern on Saturday, UMass (1-0) is expecting nothing short of spectacular against arguably college hockey’s most successful goaltender last season.

“He’s a good goaltender, he controls rebounds, he’s usually going to make the initial save and his rebounds, like I said, are either in the corner or tight in front of him where he’s going to cover it up,” junior forward Troy Power said. “So we gotta make sure that we get bodies in front of the net, get some screens if we can, try to make life tough on him and see if we can get some greasy goals, some rebound goals, some goals in front of the net and try to bang everything in that we can.”

Power, who served as the right winger on the first line with Michael Pereira and Conor Sheary in Friday’s 4-1 win over Connecticut, said it’ll be crucial for the three do build chemistry and start producing points if they hope to score on a goalie of Milner’s caliber.

“We’re starting to get the chemistry thing down and things are getting better every day which is good,” Power said. “Hopefully we can get the ball rolling in the right direction and start producing for our team and be leaders out there.”

What Micheletto emphasized as the key to beating Milner is creating traffic in front of the net in order make it hard for him to know what’s going on and make it difficult for him to see the puck.

“As with any good goaltender if he can see it he’s gonna stop that first one,” Micheletto said. “So if you get bodies in front and create that sort of swarming mentality and bang home a second or third shot that’s really the best way to get to any good goaltender.”

The players have echoed that same sentiment.

“He makes the first save so we’re gonna have to get a lot of traffic in front of him and get the dirty goal,” junior defenseman Joel Hanley said. “With any goalie in (Hockey East) it’s not gonna be easy to get goals so you’re gonna have to get traffic in front and take lots of shots and hope for the best.”

Czepiel, Carzo named captains

After opting go without any captains for Friday’s season-opening win over Connecticut, Micheletto announced Tuesday night that seniors Kevin Czepiel and Rocco Carzo would don a “C” on their jersey for the Minutemen this season.

“Rocco and Kevin have impacted our team positively with their workmanlike approach and positive outlook,” Micheletto told UMassAtheltics.com. “Their teammates have recognized their leadership qualities thus far and have voiced their support for the two of them. I’m as excited for Kevin and Rocco to receive this recognition as I am for our team to be led and represented by them.”

Czepiel scored a career-high three goals for UMass last season and had six points total, giving the Holyoke native 18 points for his career.

Carzo had seven points as a junior last season giving the Media, Pa., native 29 for his career on nine goals and 20 assists.

Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.