Special teams play fuels late UMass rally, forces tie

By Jason Kates

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

For the majority of this season, special teams play hasn’t been kind to the Massachusetts hockey team.

Friday night, that wasn’t the case.

Two power play goals and a shorthanded tally led to UMass’ (7-16-1, 2-11-1 Hockey East) first tie of the season in a 4-4 stalemate against No.14 Merrimack College Friday night.

“It certainly helped us get a point tonight,” coach John Micheletto said regarding the Minutemen’s special teams efforts.

“I thought the energy and momentum that our power play was able to sustain even when we didn’t score was good,” he said. “A lot of times when you can’t get anything going on the power play the bench tends to get a bit frustrated. Tonight even on the ones we didn’t put in the net, I thought we created chances and had continued momentum.

Once again, it was junior Shane Walsh who delivered for UMass on the man-advantage, finding the back of the net with seven minutes, 48 seconds left in the final period to draw the Minutemen level with the Warriors (13-7-3, 4-5-2 HEA).

It was Walsh’s eighth goal of the season, and also his tenth point in third periods this year.

“Any road game in this conference is gonna be a hard game,” Walsh said.

“We came up with the mindset that we were good for the first twenty (minutes), and then they got three pretty quick ones in the second and we were down 3-1. I thought we did a really good job of staying together and coming out in the third just working really hard.”

Micheletto was very pleased with his team’s overall performance, and the amount fight his team showed to earn a vital road point as the Minutemen continue to try and move up in the conference standings.

“I was happy with the way we competed for 55 minutes, stuck to the game plan for the most part, had a lot of success, and did a lot of nice things,” he said.

“It’s not an easy building to play in, nor an easy team to get many points away, so all things considered I’m certainly happy with the process.”

Despite allowing three unanswered goals to Merrimack in the second period after taking a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, UMass never gave up, scoring the first two goals of the last period courtesy of Frank Vatrano and Brandon Montour.

Vatrano’s goal, which was the 13th of the season for the redshirt sophomore, came on the power play, while Montour’s came during a penalty kill.

“I thought it was very good,” Micheletto said regarding the two comebacks his team made, adding that it “showed a lot of resolve and a lot of belief in the guys.”

“We certainly had a secondary mission down 3-1 against one of the better defensive teams on their home ice. It would’ve been very easy for us to not press on, but obviously we stuck to what we were doing and committed to continuing to step on the gas.”

“I thought that was a really nice representation of our guys,” he added.

The comeback, however, was short lived after a go-ahead goal from Hampus Gustafsson just six seconds following Montour’s goal gave the Warriors a 4-3 lead with just under 10 minutes left in the third.

But it was the junior Walsh who came up big for UMass.

“It showed our character right now, and how willing we are to work hard for each other,” he said.

Sophomore Brennan Baxandall earned his first career goal for UMass when he opened up the scoring with six minutes, 18 seconds left in the opening period.

Other goal-scorers for Merrimack were Jace Hennig, Mathieu Tibbet and Chris LeBlanc.

The two teams will meet again Saturday night at the Mullins Center at 7 p.m. as the Minutemen look to sweep the Warriors.

Jason Kates can be reached at [email protected] and followed @Jason_Kates.