BOSTON – All the usual faces were there, but the combinations couldn’t have possibly been more different for the Massachusetts hockey team at No. 17 Northeastern on Saturday night.
Usually it’s the household names of Michael Pereira, Conor Sheary and Branden Gracel clear as day at the top of the line sheet for the Minutemen, but instead it was the combination of Emerson Auvenshine, Shane Walsh and Zack LaRue in the first line slot.
That doesn’t mean much in hockey, though, because the first line doesn’t necessarily have to be at the top of the line sheet.
Sheary and Gracel’s names were still called by the public address announcer at Matthews Arena when the starting lineup was announced. But Pereira was nowhere to be found. Instead it was freshman standout Steven Iacobellis alongside the two seniors.
Pereira, meanwhile, found himself alongside Iacobellis’ usual partners in crime on the second line with Ray Pigozzi and Troy Power.
As for the reason why UMass coach John Micheletto decided to switch things up, he said it was due to the lack of goals the usual pairings were producing.
“We’re averaging two goals scored a game,” he said. “We’ve had lines that have been good at times and other lines at other times. Two goals a game isn’t enough, we gotta get to three in this game on a consistent basis. We can’t keep doing the same thing and getting the same results.
“We’re trying to create some energy and find some combinations that generate more production, not just chances. ”
The move paid off for Micheletto through the first two periods as the Minutemen got out to a 3-2 lead, before eventually falling 4-3, over the Huskies and looked to have that new sense of energy that Micheletto was looking for.
Two of those goals came from Gracel, who was directly affected by the changes. His first goal came at the 14:36 mark of the first period after Sheary wiffed on an initial shot, recovered and found Gracel wide open in front of the net for the score. Iacobellis was also credited with a secondary assist on the goal, showing that there was no learning curve alongside his new linemates.
Gracel’s second goal came alongside his usual partners in Pereira and Sheary as the three were still paired up on the power play. Colin Shea let off an initial shot from the point, which Gracel tipped home.
UMass’ second goal also came from the newly created Sheary-Gracel-Iacobellis line when Iacobellis scored off a rebound created by Sheary’s initial shot. Gracel also contributed with a secondary assist.
Sheary and Gracel finished with three points while Iacobellis got two points.
“The offense was fine, our puck management was poor,” Micheletto said of the offensive performance.
A more balanced attack is something that Gracel hopes the switch can produce the rest of the year.
“Neither of us were scoring lately and you have to switch something up. It’s good for us if we can get both lines going. That’s gonna be huge for us down the stretch here. I think it’s a good switch by the coaches and we’re gonna move forward with that.”
But it wasn’t all rosy for one member of the new line. Gracel may have scored two goals, but he came up with two costly stick penalties in the third period. He was called for hooking 18 seconds into the period and for slashing just over seven minutes later when UMass was on the power play and looking to even up the game.
“You obviously can’t take four stick fouls – three penalties in the third period – on any night and expect to have winning results,” Micheletto said. “Unfortunately we gave away an opportunity where we scored three goals.”
Cameron McDonough can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Cam_McDonough.