UMass visits UML hoping to end eight-game drought

By Nick Canelas

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

The last time the Massachusetts hockey team defeated UMass Lowell, Carl Crawford was a newly acquired Red Sox outfielder, Miley Cyrus had long, brown hair and Paul Dainton was the UMass starting goaltender.

The Minutemen haven’t beaten the River Hawks since Jan. 15, 2011, when the current seniors were freshmen. Since then, both teams have undergone a number of changes, most notably in terms of head coach, but only UML has seen immediate results.

Since Norm Bazin took over as head coach before the 2011-12 season, the River Hawks have won a Hockey East championship, made two NCAA Tournament appearances and a trip to the Frozen Four.

That success also includes an 8-0 record versus UMass.

“The last three years, they’ve been a power not only in our league but in the country, and they’ve proven that,” senior co-captain Conor Sheary said. “They’ve become a strong and deep team and it’s a hard battle every night we play them.”

The Minutemen (8-17-4, 4-9-3 Hockey East) hope to end that drought when the two teams square off for the final time this season on Friday night at the Tsongas Center.

No. 7 UML (19-7-3, 9-4-2) won Saturday’s matchup at Mullins Center 5-3 after jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the game’s first 23 minutes. River Hawks’ Ryan McGrath and Michael Fallon each contributed a goal and an assist, Joseph Pendenza and A.J. White each had a pair of helpers, and Connor Hellebuyck made 34 saves for his 11th win of the season.

Junior goaltender Steve Mastalerz, who is winless in his career against the River Hawks, was pulled from the ice after UML’s fourth goal. Now he and the rest of the Minutemen are looking to capitalize on another chance to finally beat the River Hawks.

“Everyone knows. We’re all aware of it,” Mastalerz said of UMass’ struggles against UML. “But at the same time, it’s a new game. It’s a fresh start every time we get to play them, so going into Friday, anything can happen.

“My chances are running down trying to beat them,” he added. “I’ve only got three or four more times to beat them, so I want this to be one of the times I get back at them.”

Mastalerz also said it will be important for the Minutemen to get off to a fast start, because the River Hawks have proven to be a good first-period team.

“If they get a lead early, it’s tough to come back on them,” he said. “They have a good understanding of what they can do to win games. That’s definitely tough to play against.”

Of all nine matchups with UML, Friday’s may prove to be the most important for the Minutemen.

UMass is tied with Norte Dame for eighth place in the Hockey East standings, but the Irish hold the tiebreaker due to an extra conference win, and also have a game in hand heading into their weekend series at Providence.

UMass coach John Micheletto, who believes his team has played better with each meeting with the River Hawks since he’s taken over behind the Minutemen bench, is still holding out hope for a run at a first-round playoff bye. Realistically, he’d like to at least clinch a one-game playoff at Mullins Center.

Micheletto says that he has been following the league standings since the beginning of the season. Now he’ll probably be paying even closer attention.

“I watch the standings from the beginning of the season, so it’s gonna be no different now,” he said. “As soon as you get done doing what you do with the team postgame and media, the first thing you’re doing is seeing how scores are around the league.

“So you know how that stands, you know games that affect you, so you’re certainly keying on those.”

The challenge will be even greater for the Minutemen, who will once again be without co-captain Troy Power, after he hurt his knee last Friday at Northeastern. Power missed Saturday’s game against UML and was replaced by Adam Phillips on UMass’ unofficial second line with Ray Pigozzi and Michael Pereira.

Power’s absence is indefinite.

Puck drop for Friday’s contest is set for 7:30 p.m. UMass returns to Mullins on Saturday to host the Huskies at 7 p.m.

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