Minutemen prepare for Friday matchup with non-conference foe American International College

By Ross Gienieczko

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(Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian)

(Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian)

Last weekend, in a series against Maine, the Massachusetts hockey team played well at times. Friday night, it recovered from deficits of 3-0 and 5-3 to tie the game, and on Saturday it jumped out to a 2-0 lead in two periods.

However, sometimes playing well isn’t good enough, as the Minutemen failed to gain any points in the series in two losses against the Black Bears.

UMass (2-5, 1-4 Hockey East) returns to Amherst for just its second home game of the season. After the season-opener against Boston University, the Minutemen embarked on a six-game road trip that included games at Michigan State, Maine, Boston College and Northeastern University. They went 2-4 on the trip, with the two wins coming against the Spartans and Huskies.

Offensively, the Minutemen are led by freshman center Dennis Kravchenko, who enjoyed a breakout weekend against Maine. After recording just two points in the five games prior to the Maine series, Kravchenko exploded with three goals and an assist over two games. The three goals scored were enough to give him the team lead.

“His game definitely took a step,” coach John Micheletto said. “But having said that, I think he’s been really good for us, and it just hasn’t shown up as much on the score sheet as it did on the weekend. He’s a talented player with a diverse skill set.”

“It’s a good feeling,” Kravchenko said. “Overall I feel like my game has been good … things just clicked this time.”

Other big contributors to the attack have been sophomores Steven Iacobellis and Ray Pigozzi. The linemates have each recorded two goals and four assists, and have been the most consistent playmakers for UMass thus far.

In net, the Minutemen have used a rotation of senior Steve Mastalerz and freshman Henry Dill so far this season. Dill has backstopped UMass to both of their wins, and has appeared in five of seven games so far. Mastalerz had a rough start to the year against the Terriers, allowing six goals and another five against Michigan State. But he bounced back Saturday with a strong performance against the Black Bears, making 35 saves in a losing effort.

“It was important for him to kind of get back on the horse a little bit,” Micheletto said.

Mastalerz appears to be regaining his form in net, and Micheletto talked about how important it was to have two capable goaltenders available.

“It’s big for us, as a team, to have more than one goaltender that can get the start and that guys feel confident with,” Micheletto said.

American International enters the contest at 2-4-1, but is trending in the right direction. The Yellow Jackets swept Niagara last weekend, and had a strong offensive showing with seven goals scored in the two game series. AIC is led by head coach Gary Wright, in his 31st season as head coach of the team, while senior forward Alexander MacMillan leads the team in goals with five, and goaltender Alex Murray is 2-1-1 this season with a .954 save percentage.

Although AIC is not a Hockey East foe, Kravchenko said that UMass still has to be prepared and play their best hockey.

“They’re going to bring their best,” he said. “Any team can win on any given night. I’m assuming it’s going to be a hard game, and we have to bring our A game.”

To play their “A” game, UMass is going to have to play a full 60 minutes of hockey. It’s something that Micheletto and Kravchenko both spoke about, and it’s clear that a complete effort was a focus in practice and preparation this week.

“We’ve gotten good parts and pieces depending on the night in different areas of the game,” Micheletto said. But, he went on to say, “We’re striving to get 60 complete minutes of hockey out of everybody.”

Faceoff from Mullins Center will be at 7 p.m. on Friday.

Ross Gienieczko can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @RossGien