Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass hockey eliminated from playoff contention in loss to Merrimack

By Cameron McDonough

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NORTH ANDOVER – For a moment, it looked like the Massachusetts hockey team had accomplished an unthinkable feat.

After trailing for most of Friday’s game against Merrimack, the Minutemen (11-19-13, 8-16-2 Hockey East Association) scored twice with the extra-attacker, including Rocco Carzo’s game-tying goal with 41 seconds remaining to tie the game at 3-3.

But the jubilation was short lived as the Warriors (15-14-6, 13-10-3 HEA) scored at 1 minute, 45 seconds into overtime for the 4-3 win on a goal by Connor Toomey.

The loss combined with Maine’s 4-3 win over New Hampshire ended UMass’ postseason hopes. It will not be going to the Hockey East playoffs for the first time since 2002.

After Carzo scored the tying goal, senior forward and co-captain Kevin Czepiel was instantly uplifted.

“Unbelievable,” he said of the equalizer. “We could see the scores, so we knew we needed a point. So when Rocco scored that goal it was probably the best feeling in my life.”

But then came the agony of defeat with Toomey’s goal.

“We need to play through the point man and we didn’t. They were able to get a shot on net and a rebound,” UMass coach John Micheletto said of the game-winning goal.

Merrimack opened up the busy third period with what looked to be an insurance goal at the time when John Gustafsson scored on a rebound 5:56 into the frame.

But UMass responded with an extra-man goal with 16:48 into the third when Shane Walsh knocked one in with a 6-on-4 advantage.

Micheletto discussed what went into his decision process when it came to pulling his goalie Steve Mastalerz in favor of a man-advantage after the game.

“You’re kind of playing it by ear and you’re obviously trying to take as much of the risk out of it at that point,” he said, “and give your guys every opportunity to try to at least get one on a 5-on-5 situation.

“We thought about it when they went 4-on-4 but when they took the penalty it seemed like an opportune time.”

However, the Warriors came right back and made it 3-1 on a goal by Mike Collins.

UMass was far from done, however. Conor Sheary scored a power play goal to pull the Minutemen back to within one at the 17:23 mark. Carzo then followed that with his game-tying 6-on-5 goal.

The Warriors were the dominant team in the first period and they kept Mastalerz (32 saves) under constant pressure, forcing him to make 18 saves on 19 shots. His counterpart in goal, Sam Marotta, made 37 stops.

That one shot got past Mastalerz with 8:07 remaining in the first period when Jordan Heywood put home a loose rebound. John Heffernan and Shawn Bates each were credited with assists on the goal.

Neither team scored in the second period despite UMass’ glaring 18-5 shot advantage.

Despite the playoffs being out of reach, the Minutemen say that there is still plenty to play for.

“Tomorrow’s gonna be the biggest game for next year,” Czepiel said. “It’s not gonna be runs in the summer, it’s gonna be who showed up (Saturday) for that team next year.”

Tomorrow will also be Senior Night for UMass’ four seniors – Carzo, Czepiel, Eddie Olczyk and Darren Rowe.

Olczyk suffered a shoulder injury during Friday night’s loss and his status is questionable for tomorrow. Forward Michael Pereira did not play Friday with a head injury.

The puck is scheduled to drop at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center with Senior Night festivities occurring after the game.

Cameron McDonough can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Cam_McDonough.

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