Iacobellis, Walsh fuel UMass in comeback victory over Maine

By Mark Chiarelli

Photo by Aviva Luttrell/Daily Collegian
Photo by Aviva Luttrell/Daily Collegian

Steven Iacobellis caught Maine at the perfect time.

With nearly three minutes left in a 2-2 draw, the Massachusetts hockey center pursued a puck which wrapped around the boards behind the Black Bears net. Iacobellis gained possession of the puck near the right faceoff dot in between a Maine defenseman and a closing winger on the back check.

Sensing an opening, he carried the puck into an open area of space to the left of Black Bears goaltender Sean Romeo and fired a centering pass across his crease.

On the receiving end? UMass forward Shane Walsh, who buried a game-winning one-timer goal with two minutes, 58 seconds remaining, catapulting the Minutemen to a 3-2 victory over Maine at the Mullins Center.

“I went to the slot and hung out there,” said Walsh, who joined the offensive zone as the puck wrapped around the boards.

“I think (Iacobellis) picked off a play by their defenseman and he came in and made a really nice pass. I was lucky enough to bury it.”

“I think everyone was trying to blow the zone at the time,” Iacobellis said of the Maine defenders. “Luckily for me there was space open … Shane did an unreal job of getting open.”

Walsh’s goal – his second of the game – was the finishing touch on a UMass comeback which started as the Minutemen trailed 2-1 in the third period.

Ten minutes, 27 seconds into the third period, Iacobellis took advantage of another loose puck in front of Romeo, beating the Maine goaltender after corralling a loose rebound in the slot to tie it 2-2. Both Walsh and their third linemate, Troy Power, assisted on the goal.

The trio combined to tally six points and was UMass’ most dominant line. Minutemen coach John Micheletto said the trio, which started playing together only a short while ago, showed signs of breaking through in the week leading up to the game.

“I really liked the way they approached practice and really leading with their approach every day this week,” Micheletto said. “It was definitely one of those examples where the way they approached practice flowed over into the game.”

UMass took advantage of its opportunities in the third period, but initially gave the lead away to Maine the period prior.

The Minutemen had a two-man advantage power play on two separate occasions in the second period but didn’t produce a goal. Instead, Maine’s Conor Riley beat Minutemen goaltender Henry Dill 14:24 into the second period to take a 2-1 lead while UMass still had a man-advantage.

“Obviously, I think there was some frustration within the course of the play from the guys that were on the power play,” Micheletto said.

“We had a great opportunity there and we missed it … I thought the guys pushed forward coming off of it and made sure that it wasn’t such an energy drain that it ended up impacting the overall team.”

The Black Bears unleashed 20 shots on UMass goaltender Henry Dill in the first period but didn’t get on the board until the second frame, when defenseman Dan Renouf beat Dill to make it 1-0.

Maine doubled up the Minutemen in first-period shots, 16-8.

“I know in between periods after the first and second, guys were kind of down a little bit,” Walsh said. “It’s just about remembering that we have 20 minutes to get out there and make a difference.”

Walsh led by example, scoring nearly six minutes after Renouf, beating Romeo on a 3-on-1 rush orchestrated by UMass defenseman Brandon Montour to make it 1-1.

Dill finished with 35 saves in the win. It was Walsh’s first career multi-goal game, and his four goals is a season-high.

Despite Maine’s advantage in shots (37-22), faceoffs (38-33) and its four penalty kills, the Minutemen emerged.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” Micheletto said with a smile.

“Sometimes that’s the way it goes. I know that we’ve sat in this press room or others on the road on a handful of nights already this year when that’s not been the case. I’d like to think the hockey gods are smiling down on us a little bit.”

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