Canelas: Boyle establishing himself as full-time starter

By Nick Canelas

Jeff Bernstein/Collgian

There’s a popular saying in football that if you have two quarterbacks, you have no quarterback.

The same could be said for goaltenders in hockey.

Well, the Massachusetts hockey team has used three since last season and have yet to show any signs of settling on one guy in particular.

Until now.

Sophomore Kevin Boyle got the start in net for the third consecutive game Sunday at No. 1 Boston College after fellow sophomore Steve Mastalerz started two of the first three contests.

And for the third consecutive game, Boyle was strong.

The sophomore made 28 saves on 31 shots in a 3-2 loss to the Eagles, showing he belongs on the same surface as defending Frozen Four Most Outstanding Player Parker Milner, who made 29 saves on 31 shots for his sixth win of the season.

However, it wasn’t just Sunday’s performance that has made Boyle stand out as the go-to guy. He delivered big-time in Friday’s 2-1 win over No. 9 New Hampshire, handing the Wildcats their first loss of the season while giving UMass its first Hockey East win of the season.

The Manalapan, N.J., native has gotten the job done all season, allowing just eight goals on the year and only four in two games this weekend against the top two teams in Hockey East. It was a weekend where the Minutemen were in dire need of points, and Boyle got it done going up against two of the hottest goaltenders in in the conference currently in Milner and UNH’s Casey DeSmith.

Boyle was tops among Hockey East goaltenders with a 1.65 goals against average heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Eagles and eighth in the nation overall. The sophomore’s .942 save percentage also put him eighth in the country and second in the conference behind Northeastern’s Bryan Mountain’s .947 mark.

The three goals allowed Sunday dropped him to 20th in the nation with a 1.99 mark, which is identical to Milner’s. The two goalies also share a .932 save percentage. Even UMass coach John Micheletto is taking notice of his goalie’s progress.

“I think the reason Kevin was having success this weekend was because he was tracking pucks down and minimizing his rebounds,” he said. “When doing those things you’re gonna have a lot of success in this league.”

Boyle was clearly UMass’ best goaltender last season, going 8-7 with a 3.00 goals against average and an .895 save percentage, something that was unmatched by his counterparts. While the statistics clearly proved his value to the team, his inability to bring that same production to the rink on the second of back-to-back outings prevented him from asserting himself as the No. 1 guy in goal.

However, that was the freshman Boyle. This weekend, the one-year veteran put on display his true capabilities against the two hottest teams in Hockey East, playing well enough to win not just once, but twice.

“I think it was a good display for him, especially putting back-to-back outings together on the same weekend,” Micheletto said. “So I thought it was a nice statement on Kevin’s part to be able to do that.”

To be a successful goaltender, you not only need the physical capabilities to perform, but the mental aspect needs to be level as well. However, a constantly rotating lineup last season killed any chances for Boyle to gain that necessary confidence to play to his full potential on a consistent basis.

Boyle’s confidence was certainly given lift playing in both games this weekend, especially playing well in each.

Boyle said after the game that it was certainly a boost to his confidence to be able to play well in back-to-back outings this weekend, but enjoys the challenge of having to battle it out in practice with Mastalerz and junior Jeff Teglia to earn that start Friday night when the Minutemen host Providence.

“It’s always good to know going it that you have to battle for time and always do well in practice, it’s always good to know that,” Boyle said.

While Micheletto, as expected, said that his starter for Friday won’t be determined until Thursday, it would make little sense not to give the start to the guy with the hot hand.

To say Mastalerz hasn’t played well is definitely an unfair statement, but it surely hasn’t been to the same level of Boyle.

Mastalerz has allowed nine goals in two starts, but has faced 67 shots combined in starts against BC and Boston University. He’s sporting a 4.40 goals against average with an .864 save percentage so far.

Looking at the way each of the first six games have gone, both Boyle and Mastalerz have shown that they are good enough to keep UMass close in any game it plays. But Boyle is the one who has shown he can bring the all-important wins against the top teams and the top goalies in the nation.

It’s no question the Minutemen need nothing but wins in what is looking to be an incredibly tight race for positions in the Hockey East playoffs. And it starts with leaving it in the hands of the team’s best goaltender against the Friars team, like the Eagles, BU and the Wildcats would do.

In fact, it’ll be even more important to get wins against a Providence team that UMass will likely be chasing for a spot in the conference tournament come March.

While it’s still early in the season and we’re likely to see plenty more rotation before the season is over, I think UMass has finally taken the first step towards consistency in net.

And it would certainly be well-deserved on Boyle’s part.

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