DURHAM, N.H. – The road woes continue for the Massachusetts hockey team.
The Minutemen fell to 0-5 away from Mullins Center this season with a 4-1 loss to New Hampshire at Whittemore Center Arena in front of an energized crowd of 5,320.
Losers of four straight games, the Wildcats were desperate for a win and showed it with their performance on the ice, outshooting UMass 32-23 for the game and controlling play most of the way.
The same Minutemen squad that looked dominant at home last weekend against Maine – and really for much of the season – looked flat, especially in the face of adversity midway through the second period onward.
With away contests at Boston College and Vermont on the horizon, picking up that elusive first road win won’t come easy and the frustration is becoming apparent.
“I think the first one is probably the hardest,” junior forward Troy Power said. “We need everyone on the ice to contribute and want to win and it’s gonna take everyone to get that first win.
“It’s unfortunate it’s been a (five) games now, but it’s something we want to do. It’s hard enough to do, but it’s something that if we want to be a good team it’s something we have to do. It’s frustrating.”
Fortunately for UMass (3-5-1, 1-2-1 Hockey East), the scene will shift to the friendly confines of Mullins Center, where it is undefeated this season, for the last leg of a home-and-home series against the Wildcats (2-5-1, 1-2 HEA) on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Friday’s game had the makings of a close contest through the first 30 minutes of play, but bad penalties and Justin Agosta’s second goal of the night proved costly.
With the game tied at 1-1, Agosta beat goaltender Steve Mastalerz (28 saves) on the rush to give UNH a 2-1 advantage. That’s when the problems really began. The Minutemen took three consecutive penalties over an eight-minute span and were forced to spend the rest of the second period in the defensive zone on the penalty kill.
“I thought it was a good college hockey game until the 11:19 mark of the second period,” UMass coach John Micheletto said. That 11:19 mark was the first of the three second-period penalties, which was a holding call by freshman defenseman Marc Hetnik.
This eventually left UMass exhausted and the Wildcats took advantage in the third period with a pair of goals to put the game out of reach.
Casey Thrush made a pinpoint pass from behind the goal line to Kyle Smith in the slot for a one-timer 2:19 into the third. Then Trevor van Riemsdyk capped it off with a power play goal on a slap shot from the point to make it 4-1 at the 16:57 mark.
The Minutemen couldn’t recover following Smith’s goal and looked deflated the rest of the way. Micheletto said it was a result of having to kill so many penalties the period before.
“I don’t think we felt defeated,” Micheletto said. “There’s an amount of fatigue that sets in when you’ve gotta kill that many penalties. I think our guys rallied and mustered energy and scrapped in, but it changes an entire game.”
The Wildcats were on the attack from the opening faceoff and needed just one minute, 51 seconds to get on the board as Agosta beat Mastalerz with a shot from the top of the right circle that zipped by the pad, hit off the far post and went into the back of the net to give UNH the quick 1-0 advantage.
The Minutemen were heavily outplayed for the entire first period, being outshot 12-9 for the period and allowing UNH to get a number of other chances that had just missed the net. But UMass finally swung the momentum with its most reliable formula for success this season: its power play.
Jay Camper took an interference call 16:03 into the first period and the Minutemen answered at 17:38 when Steven Iacobellis redirected a shot from Power to tie the game at 1-1. It was UMass’ 14th power play goal of the season and the sixth scored by the second power play unit, which also includes Ray Pigozzi, Adam Phillips and Colin Shea.
While the Minutemen continue to have their share of success on the man-advantage this season, their effort on even strength still appears to be lacking. It’s something Power said UMass will need to improve on going forward.
“It’s always nice to get power-play goals,” he said, “but if you wanna win hockey games you’re gonna have to score five-on-five goals. That’s gotta be your main source of production and if you can be around 90 percent on the penalty kill and something close to around 25 percent on the power play you’re gonna win a lot of games.
“It’s good that we got a power play goal but we definitely need more five-on-five production.”
Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.