BOSTON – If the Massachusetts hockey team’s New Year’s resolution was to start winning more, it didn’t get off to a good start against No. 17 Northeastern on Saturday night.
The Minutemen led 3-2 after the second period, but allowed two quick third-period goals and fell 4-3 in non-conference play at Matthews Arena in their first game of 2014.
UMass took three penalties in the third period. That lack of discipline downed the Minutemen (6-14-3) in what was an ugly third period, as both Huskies goals came as a result of UMass hooking penalties early in the frame.
The first came from Branden Gracel just 18 seconds into the third period. Although the Huskies didn’t score on the ensuing power play, Mike McMurtry found the back of the net just seconds after Gracel came out of the box to tie the game at 3-3.
Brandon Wahlin took a hooking penalty just two minutes after the tying goal, which resulted in Cody Ferriero’s game-winner on the man-advantage 5:25 into the third period.
“We obviously can’t take four stick fouls – three penalties in the third period – on any night and expect to have winning results,” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “Unfortunately we gave away an opportunity where we scored three goals and didn’t want to do the details that make winning teams win.”
UMass had a chance to tie the game with a power play midway through the period, but Gracel took a back-breaking slashing penalty in the attacking zone just 58 seconds into the man-advantage that ended any chance of a Minutemen threat for the rest of the contest.
For UMass, it was a missed opportunity. For Gracel, it was frustration as he believed the officials made the wrong call after get tangled up with a Northeastern defenseman on the play.
“It’s unfortunate that that happened,” Gracel said. “The second penalty was a pretty tough call. I thought I was getting hooked and the guy fell down and I ended up in the penalty box.
“That kind of stuff happens. You can’t blame the refs. I gotta keep my stick down and play my game.”
With a new year came a change in the Minutemen’s lineup as well, most notably with a shake-up at forward. The highly productive second line of Troy Power, Steven Iacobellis and Ray Pigozzi was broken up for the first time this season. Instead, Michael Pereira played alongside Piggozi and Power, while Iacobellis centered Conor Sheary and Gracel.
Micheletto was looking to spark his team offensively by making the switch, and got his wish.
Gracel scored twice – once on the power play – while his line accounted for two of UMass’ goals, including Iacobellis’ second-period tally.
“We’re averaging about two goals for a game,” Micheletto said. “We’ve had lines that have been good at times, and other lines at other times. Two goals a game is not good enough, you’ve gotta get to three in this game on a consistent basis. You can’t keep doing the same thing with the same results and expect wins to come when you’re only scoring two.
“We’re trying to create some energy and find some combinations that will generate more production, not just chances.”
The Huskies (11-6-3) wasted no time getting ahead early, scoring just 2:06 into the game on a wraparound goal by Kevin Roy. Roy came around the net and got out in front before Steve Mastalerz (30 saves) could get in position, and beat the goaltender glove side to give Northeastern a 1-0 lead.
The Minutemen responded at 14:36 on Branden Gracel’s eighth goal of the season. Conor Sheary took a pass from Steven Iacobellis at the right wing circle and moved left, but Gracel got in Sheary’s way in the process and the puck came loose. Sheary, however, re-gathered the puck by the left circle and found Gracel with nothing but daylight in front of the net for the easy goal to tie the game at 1-1.
UMass needed just one minute, 35 seconds into the second period to take its first lead of the game. This time it was Iacobellis with a rebound goal off of Sheary’s initial shot. Sheary’s shot went off the pad of Clay Witt and the speedy Iacobellis came crashing toward the net to quickly finish the play and put the Minutemen up 2-1.
The Huskies answered 16:38 into the second period when Mike Szmatula took a pass from Zach Aston-Reese in the left circle and snapped a shot by the glove of Mastalererz to tie the game at 2-2.
But UMass pulled ahead again just 59 seconds later on the power play when Gracel redirected Colin Shea’s shot from the point. The shot hit off the post and went into the back of the net to give the Minutemen the 3-2 entering the second intermission.
UMass returns to the ice Friday at Cornell at 7 p.m.
Nick Canelas can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.