By playing in Monday’s consolation game, the Massachusetts hockey team had no chance of achieving its goal of winning a championship at the UConn Hockey Classic.
However, it didn’t mean the Minutemen weren’t looking for a winning effort against Connecticut following its crushing shootout loss to No. 8 Quinnipiac.
The effort was certainly there for UMass – it outshot the Huskies 38-27 and had a number of quality chances – but it still came up short, taking a 2-1 to UConn at XL Center.
“We came out of the gate guns blazing, and that was great, particularly coming off of what we did in the third period (Sunday)” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “You can’t do a lot of good, hard work with no results.”
Freshman goaltender Robby Nichols led the Huskies (7-6-2) with 37 saves in just his third career start. He denied the Minutemen of plenty of chances throughout the game, especially in a first period that UMass dominated, outshooting UConn 19-8 in the opening 20 minutes.
While few teams have seen Nichols play before, Micheletto wasn’t surprised by his efforts.
“(Nichols) had a good junior career, his numbers in the couple of games he’s played already this year have been good,” Micheletto said. “I have no reason to believe he was anything other than what we know of him, and that’s a pretty good goaltender.”
The Minutemen (6-13-3) had an opportunity to score the go-ahead goal when they went on the power play following a Huskies too many men on the ice call, but came up empty.
Instead, Branden Gracel took a hooking penalty 13 minutes, 33 seconds into the third period, and UConn capitalized at 14:56 when Billy Latta scored on a one-timer off a pass from Jordan Sims to take the 2-1 advantage late.
While that was the shot that officially lost UMass the game, the real missed opportunity came in the first period when it couldn’t beat Nichols despite countless attempts.
That eventually caught up to the Minutemen in the second period when they were outshot 13-7. The Huskies carried that momentum into the third period when they scored 26 seconds in on a goal by Ryan Tyson off assists from Jacob Poe and Joey Ferriss.
“Certainly in the first period we jumped out and had a great 20 (minutes), generated a lot of quality shot opportunities,” Micheletto said. “Whenever you do that you gotta put points on the board and we didn’t. It continues to give your opponent life. Now you’re in a fight that you shouldn’t be in because you didn’t convert when you should’ve.”
The lone positive for UMass from the weekend was the play of the fourth line of Emerson Auvenshine, Steven Guzzo and Zack LaRue.
Just one night after Auvenshine scored his first-career goal, he assisted Guzzo in scoring his first goal since Jan. 18 to tie the game at 1-1 9:12 into the third period.
Auvenshine created a shot opportunity on the rush that was saved by Nichols, but Guzzo came in to clean up the loose puck on the rebound and score the tying goal.
“They were the most consistent line (all weekend),” Micheletto said. “(They did) what we want them to do, played hard, turned pucks over on the forecheck and played inside, something that you have to do consistently. That’s the line that found a way to keep the puck inside the dots.
“It’s a lesson for all of our guys. That’s a successful formula for winning hockey.”
The Minutemen return to action Saturday night when they take on Northeastern at Matthews Arena in a non-conference matchup.
Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.