Steve Mastalerz, defense delivers for UMass hockey

By Jason Kates

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

Senior Steve Mastalerz has endured some rough games in net for the Massachusetts hockey team this season.

In the season opener versus Boston University Oct. 10, he allowed six goals in an embarrassing 8-1 loss.

He was pulled in the first period Nov. 22 after giving up three goals on 10 shots en route to a shocking 11-1 defeat at the hands of Vermont.

But on Sunday evening, Mastalerz put together one of the best performances of his career, making a career-high 44 saves in UMass’ 4-1 victory over No. 14 Merrimack.

It was Mastalerz’s first win of the season for the Minutemen (8-16-1, 3-11-1 Hockey East), coming in his seventh start between the pipes.

“It was definitely longer than expected,” Mastalerz said, still in his pads during the postgame press conference. “It’s kind of hard when you’re not playing a lot and just practicing is your action, but just keep working hard is what I told myself.”

Sunday was Mastalerz’s third career win against the Warriors (13-8-3, 4-6-2 HEA). Last year, he made 25 saves in a 5-2 victory and he recorded a shutout in the 2012-13 season in a 3-0 win.

After the game, UMass coach John Micheletto said Mastalerz’s teammates were not pleased that they were unable to give their goalie another shutout. With just one minute, 17 seconds remaining in the game, Merrimack’s Hampus Gustafsson found the back of the net to end the Minutemen’s hopes of earning their first shutout of the season.

“Our guys were so upset that they couldn’t get him the shutout,” Micheletto said. “They’re just so fond of (Mastalerz) and know how hard he’s worked over the course of his career.

“Obviously the wins haven’t come easily for him this year, so it was nice that he gave us an opportunity to win and heartwarming to see how excited our guys were for him.”

There were several instances throughout the game when Mastalerz was forced to overcome physical obstacles.

Just three minutes into the game, he was run over by Warriors winger John Gustafsson, drawing a two-minute penalty for charging. The senior was also hit in the helmet by a Merrimack stick and was struck by a shot in the quad, both coming in the second period.

But to Mastalerz’s credit, he remained in the game.

He also credited the guys in front of him for earning the victory, especially when they were on the penalty kill.

“It was huge, definitely,” Mastalerz said. “Oleg (Yevenko) came up to me after and was like, ‘I’m gonna be hurting for days.’ So it’s not just me, it’s a whole team win.”

Penalty kill comes up big

After a shorthanded goal on Friday night, the special teams effort from UMass continued to shine.
Perhaps one of the most crucial moments of the game came in the second period when Keith Burchett was sent to the penalty box for four minutes and was joined by Dominic Trento just one minute, five seconds later.

As a result, the Warriors had a full two minutes of five-on-three power-play time, but were unable to find any success.

“It’s a huge emotional and physical investment for the guys that are out there,” Micheletto said regarding the prolonged penalty kill. “The guys that are on the bench understand and appreciate that, so when they jump over the boards they’re going to be as committed and invested as those guys were.

“There’s no question that a big kill on a five-on-three with college aged players is a huge emotional boost.”

The Minutemen suffered eight penalties for 16 minutes. But led by defenders Brandon Montour and Yevenko in front of Mastalerz, they were able to limit Merrimack’s offensive opportunities.

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