Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass hockey shut down by Mike Santaguida, UVM on the road

By Nick Canelas

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BURLINGTON, Vt. – The Massachusetts hockey team couldn’t have asked much more from Steve Mastalerz on Sunday.

Cade Belisle/ Collegian

The junior goaltender played about as well as he could have in just his second game back from an undisclosed injury that kept him sidelined for three games. He handled the constant pressure that Vermont gave him and made a number of impressive saves in the process. He looked like the player that carried the Minutemen in their first nine games of the season.

But no matter how many big saves he made or how many times he bailed out his teammates, it wasn’t enough to outperform Vermont freshman goaltender Mike Santaguida, who stopped all 39 UMass shots to lead the Catamounts to a 2-0 win in front of 3,150 at Gutterson Fieldhouse to complete the sweep of the Minutemen.

“I got outplayed [Sunday],” said Mastalerz, who made 32 saves of his own. “It’s a case where if I outplayed him we would’ve won the game so I gotta give him the credit, he obviously played well. It is what it is.”

UMass had a number of chances to beat Santaguida throughout Sunday’s contest, but every time it appeared the Minutemen were going to pull through, the freshman would make one strong save after another.

UMass’ best chance came in the first period when Ray Pigozzi came around the net with the puck, made a move with his stick right in front and attempted a shot toward the far post. But Santaguida sprawled out and reached for the puck with the glove before making an extraordinary save, losing his stick in the process.

The Minutemen appeared to get an offensive boost by reuniting seniors Michael Pereira, Branden Gracel and Conor Sheary on the top forward line for the first time since Nov. 1. The trio generated offensive pressure almost every time they stepped on the ice, including an opportunity where Sheary found Pereira in the slot with some daylight in front but his shot went wide of the mark.

Every other chance moving forward was swallowed up by Santaguida.

“He played well. You can’t take away a shutout from a kid. Obviously he made the saves he had to make,” Pereira said of Santaguida. “That being said, I think there’s times where there’s pucks floating in front that we didn’t get the sort of handle on it we wanted or didn’t get the shot we wanted on it.

“I think it goes back to working on those little things and bearing down.”

Santaguida’s play made every mistake by UMass costly. The first mistake turned into the eventual game-winner 18 minutes, 22 seconds into the first period when Chris McCarthy forced a turnover in the neutral zone. McCarthy fed Jake Fallon the puck and Fallon ripped a snap shot from the left circle that beat Mastalerz glove side into the top right corner to give UVM the 1-0 advantage.

The Catamounts added the insurance goal on the power play 11:11 into the third period when Mario Puskarich cleaned up a rebound on McCarthy’s shot from the point that went off the pad of Mastalerz and onto the stick of the freshman forward.

“That is the difference,” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “That is the margin of error we have right now. Our guys know it. It’s the world we’re living in so we gotta make sure that we’re minimizing their [chances] and maximizing ours. Unfortunately [Sunday] that didn’t happen.”

The Minutemen continued to apply pressure in the third period, outshooting UVM 17-13 in the frame, but were left frustrated once again. UMass has averaged 1.25 goals per game in its last eight contests and will need to start converting and finishing opportunities if it wants to start earning wins  – something it hasn’t done in six games – and reward Mastalerz for his efforts in goal.

But UMass also knows that it can’t get overwhelmed by one tough stretch in November.

“We’re starting to really come together and start playing for one another,” Pereira said. “With that being said, we know the goals are gonna come it’s just working on those little things.

“You can’t get frustrated. It’s a long season. Obviously we know we need to pick up points here on the road, we need to pick up points on Friday. But it’s over now. We can only get better from here. We need to get better.”

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

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