UMass falls to Northeastern in Brandon Montour’s debut

By Mark Chiarelli

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)
(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

For the Massachusetts hockey team, time did not heal all wounds.

The Minutemen were playing their first game in 10 days, a chance to re-embark on a season rife with disappointment but young enough to offer enough time to salvage opportunity. They hosted Northeastern – a team UMass already beat once this season, it’s only Hockey East win this year.

Brandon Montour, UMass’ prized freshman recruit and a second round draft pick of the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks, made his debut after being ineligible for the fall semester.

But things continue to head in the wrong direction.

UMass (4-12-0, 1-9 Hockey East) fell to the Huskies 8-3 at the Mullins Center Tuesday night, marking its fourth straight loss in a game in which it allowed five power play goals.

“Losing is discouraging, there’s no way to avoid that,” UMass coach John Micheletto said.

“It’s clear to everybody that there’s talent in the room when we funnel our energy and focus on taking care of the details – we have a good team. Right now, we’re not playing like a very good team. We need to re-find what it is that defines us and allows us to be successful and get back to committing to do that on a daily basis.”

For a fleeting moment, UMass appeared to steady itself, find that success and gather momentum. Trailing 4-0 seven minutes, 34 seconds into the second period, Minutemen forward Patrick Lee received a centering pass from teammate Dennis Kravchenko and netted UMass’ first goal of the game.

His quick wrist shot beat Northeastern goaltender Clay Witt, who couldn’t recover across his crease quickly enough, over his right shoulder.

But as quickly as it came for the Minutemen, it left. The Huskies scored less than a minute later on a laser of a wrist shot from Adam Reid, who beat UMass goaltender Steve Mastalerz. At that point, it was Northeastern’s fifth goal in its first seven shots.

UMass’ Frank Vatrano answered 11:56 into the period when he collected a bouncing puck off a faceoff in the Huskies zone and beat Witt with a wrist shot, this time over his left shoulder, to make it 5-2.

The Huskies went on to score the next three goals, before Vatrano netted his second goal of the game (his ninth of the season) in the final minutes of the third period.

“Goals are going in and we need to stop that and learn how to stop the bleeding,” Micheletto said.

“Overall, it’s not playing the scoreboard, it’s not playing the standings. It’s playing the way you’re supposed to play. The way that we’re supposed to play is in parts tonight not what you saw.”

UMass fell behind almost immediately.

Northeastern scored three goals within the first 11 minutes of the game, prompting Micheletto to pull starting goaltender Henry Dill in favor of Mastalerz.

Huskies forward Ryan Rosenthal opened the scoring with a goal that handcuffed Dill. The puck bounced off Dill’s pads and squirted behind him, barely crossing the goal line before Dill jumped on it. Northeastern forward Mike Szmatula followed suit, scoring an even strength goal and a power play goal to push the lead to 3-0.

Micheletto called Northeastern’s first three goals, which came on four shots, discouraging.

“We certainly would’ve liked to not have been down 3-0 after out-shooting a team 10-4 in the first period,” he said. “That obviously puts us in a significant hole and it’s very difficult to come away with positive results when that happens.”

The loss spoiled Montour’s debut. The 6-foot, 190-pound freshman arrived in Amherst Sunday and practiced with the team for two days. He started on the first defensive pairing alongside Oleg Yevenko and also appeared on UMass’ power play.

“I thought I was a little rusty to begin with during the first period,” said Montour, who registered two shots and registered a minor penalty after attempting a shot after time expired in the first period.

“I haven’t been on the ice too much recently,” he said. “As the game went on I thought that I kind of sharpened up and played a pretty good game I guess.”

Micheletto praised Montour’s energy, but was quick to caution against expectations that Montour would single-handedly carry the team.

“He’s certainly a significant piece to our puzzle moving forward and I really enjoyed seeing him in a Massachusetts jersey tonight,” Micheletto said.

The Minutemen will leave for winter break tomorrow and don’t play against until Dec. 28 against Providence. Micheletto said he hopes for a refocused effort in the second half.

“We want to make sure that everybody has the right mindset moving forward and is ready to park the first half of the season and move forward the second,” Micheletto said.

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.