UMass hockey looks to rebound against Vermont following Saturday’s blowout at home

By Anthony Chiusano

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

Tuesday’s trip to Burlington, Vermont offers a chance for redemption for the Massachusetts hockey team, which suffered its worst defeat since 1976 against No. 13 Vermont Saturday.

In the first leg of a home-and-home series, the Catamounts defeated the Minutemen 11-1 at the Mullins Center to hand UMass (3-7, 1-6 Hockey East) its second loss of the weekend.

While Tuesday’s matchup will be the Minutemen’s third game in five days, UMass coach John Micheletto said that the closeness between games will have a beneficial effect on the team.

“I think we’re excited to play with the uniqueness of this quick turnaround,” Micheletto said. “I think it’s a good thing to get right back at it. We’re ready to go.”

Now preparing to face second place Vermont (8-3-1, 6-3-1 Hockey East) on the road, sophomore Steven Iacobellis said that the Minutemen must continue to look forward and not dwell on the team’s disappointing weekend.

“You want to forget about all the negative things that are going on,” said Iacobellis, who leads UMass with 10 points this season. “You just have to try to take away all the positives and all the good things that we did do.”

According to Iacobellis, these positives included spurts of success in maintaining control on the offensive side against a very aggressive and play-making Catamounts’ defensive unit.

“There were definitely times where we had success with our puck possession,” he said. “That was a big key that we are trying to stress right now. We can’t be throwing the puck away when there’s no chances.”

Sophomore Ray Pigozzi said that despite UMass’ improvements in possession time, which led to a fairly even shot distribution between the two teams Saturday – Vermont held a 31-29 advantage – the Minutemen must be more consistent in creating scoring chances.

“I thought each game (over the weekend) we had a few opportunities but you can never say you’re happy,” Pigozzi said. “No matter how close the shots, at least Saturday night, the score wasn’t close.”

Pigozzi said that further improvements must be made all across the ice, as well as in having the proper mental mindset.

“Our mindset definitely is that things need to change drastically,” Pigozzi said. “Giving up 16 goals in a weekend is unacceptable and frankly pretty embarrassing. I know everyone in the locker room is on the same page. Things need to change and they will change.”

The Catamounts present a well-balanced lineup that boasted 17 different point scorers in Saturday’s matchup. Their high-scoring offense is catalyzed by strong defensive play and quick transitions off turnovers, as Vermont leads the Hockey East with 20 goals from defensemen this season.

Iacobellis said that the Catamounts’ physicality does not pose a problem for UMass however, saying that the Minutemen’s forwards also like playing aggressively. Iacobellis added that this was apparent for about the first 10 minutes of Saturday’s game.

“We actually set the tone and it just kind of got away from us. We didn’t have the ability at the time to wrestle it back,” Iacobellis said. “I think we have guys that like to play aggressive and it’s just a matter of doing it for a full 60 minutes instead of just the first 10.”

Another area the Minutemen hope to capitalize on Tuesday will be on shorthanded defense, according to Pigozzi. Vermont leads the conference in power play goal percentage and finished 4-for-5 on the man-advantage Saturday night.

“Special teams is always a focus,” Pigozzi said.  “I think it can boost a team to a win and I think we slightly struggled on ours.  I know our (penalty) kill is good enough to stop it.”

Micheletto said that UMass has been focusing on closing gaps and identifying defensive responsibilities quicker to decrease opponents’ scoring chances, especially on the power play.

Looking past Saturday’s loss, Tuesday’s matchup presents the Minutemen with an additional opportunity for redemption. It will be its first trip to Vermont since the opening round of last season’s Hockey East tournament when UMass was eliminated after a 2-1 defeat.

In the March 7 game, UMass held a 1-0 lead in the second period before the Catamounts rallied to score two unanswered goals, including a game-winner with one minute, seven seconds left in regulation.

According to Pigozzi, the memory of last season’s ending still resonates with the team and will provide extra motivation heading into Tuesday.

“That was a tough loss last year,” Pigozzi said. “I think every game you play, you get a lot of energy, but I think going back there after losing to the team and getting knocked out by them definitely gives you that extra push.”

Anthony Chiusano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @a_chiusano24.