Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass hockey’s comeback bid falls short versus Northeastern

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

One wouldn’t know the Massachusetts hockey team had just lost its third straight game at the most crucial time of year by the way UMass coach John Micheletto opened his postgame press conference on Saturday night.

“I hope you know I’m not disingenuous when I say that I really like my team,” Micheletto said after his team’s 5-4 loss to No. 12 Northeastern in front of 2,315 at Mullins Center. “They’re a lot of fun to watch, fun to coach. They’ve got a lot of fight in them. I don’t like spotting anyone five goals, but the way that they played, I’m proud to be their coach.”

The Minutemen (8-19-4, 4-11-3 Hockey East) outshot the Huskies 36-21, scored two shorthanded goals in a game for the first time in 12 years and had four different players find the back of the net. But had a furious comeback bid stopped short by the play of Northeastern goaltender Clay Witt, who made 32 saves for his 15th win of the season.

UMass trailed 5-1 four minutes, 10 seconds into the third period, but rallied for three consecutive goals in a six-minute span to cut the deficit to one with almost half a period left.

Zach Aston-Reese put the Huskies up 5-1 with a breakaway goal off a turnover by Adam Phillips, who also took a slashing penalty on the backcheck, and seemingly put the game away.

But Michael Pereira willed the Minutemen back into the game 10 seconds later with a shorthanded goal from the slot. Conor Sheary cut the deficit to 5-3 81 seconds later with a shorthanded goal of his own, bringing the Mullins Center crowd back to life.

It was the first time since 2002 that UMass scored two shorthanded goals in a game. Sheary’s goal extended his goal-scoring streak to five games and point streak to seven games.

“I feel really good, especially down the end of the road here I want to be playing my best game, especially going into playoffs,” said the senior captain, who played alongside Ray Pigozzi and Adam Phillips for the first time this season.

Sheary later added, “I like to be looked at as a goal-scorer and I like holding that burden.”

Zack LaRue made it 5-4 when he redirected Colin Shea’s shot from the point for his first goal of the season.

The Minutemen had multiple opportunities to score the equalizer late in the third. UMass’ best chance came on the power play with less than four minutes to play. Shea fired a shot from the point that hit off the pad of Witt and found Branden Gracel’s stick to the blocker side. Gracel fired the shot from in front but Witt made the diving save to preserve the lead.

Joel Hanley then had a chance after the power play on the rush, but Witt snagged the puck with an outstretched glove.

“The guy they had in net (Saturday) made some very difficult saves,” Micheletto said of Witt. “He made a couple very quiet ones in the first. I thought he made the save of the game in the second until late in the third when he made a diving save. You tip your cap.”

Of course, UMass may have never been in such a hole if it weren’t for costly turnovers and poor defensive-zone play in game’s first 44 minutes.

The Huskies took a 1-0 lead on Kevin Roy’s 16th goal of the season 14:53 into the first period. Roy and Mike Szmatula led the rush. Szmatula fed Roy cross ice and the sophomore’s centering pass deflected off a host of Minutemen defenders and past goaltender Steve Mastalerz, who stopped just 16 of Northeastern’s 21 shots.

The Huskies doubled their advantage 3:43 into the second period on a goal by Tanner Pond off a set-up by Adam Reid. Reid worked his way around the net with the puck and threw it in front for Pond to slip between the legs of Mastalerz for the freshman’s first career goal to put Northeastern up 2-0.

UMass cut the deficit in half on Ben Gallacher’s first goal as a Minuteman 17:06 into the second period. But the Huskies answered exactly two minutes later when a neutral-zone turnover led to a 2-on-1 break led by Roy, who fed Ryan Belonger for the 3-1 advantage.

Pond scored his second goal of the game 1:53 into the third before Aston-Reese made it 5-1 with his goal.

“That’s usually the way it is in any game,” Micheletto said of the turnovers. “You try to manage the puck as best as you can. Teams are taught, trained and drilled to be opportunistic. … Defenses are too good and goaltenders are too good around the country to try to break a puck out of your own zone, move four passes through the neutral zone and mount some sort of attack and think that you’re gonna win games that way.”

While Micheletto was satisfied with his team’s effort late, the outlook isn’t as encouraging as it was entering the weekend in terms of the standings. With a Notre Dame win over Providence, the Minutemen are now all but out of contention for the final home seed in the Hockey East playoffs with two games left in the regular season, which ends with a home-and-home with the Friars next weekend.

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

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  • K

    Ken BrowneFeb 19, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    Tough loss…again…but last week at Matthews Arena was a great experience. I went with my 7 year old grandson and he was thrilled to high-five the Minutemen at the end of the second period and especially at the end of the game. All that and a souvenir hockey puck.