UMass hockey hopes to ride momentum into Friday’s matchup against Boston University

By Anthony Chiusano

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

Sunday’s win over No. 14 Merrimack was arguably the Massachusetts hockey team’s most impressive performance of the year, and its first victory over a ranked Hockey East opponent.

Now, UMass (8-16-1, 3-11-1 HEA) has a chance to bring its winning streak to two in a rematch against another tough conference opponent who sent a disappointed Mullins Center crowd home following a season-opening seven-goal defeat in October.

The Minutemen travel to Boston this Friday to face No. 2 Boston University for their second and final meeting of the regular season.

In UMass’ season-opening game on Oct. 10, BU exploded for six third period goals en route to an 8-1 victory in Amherst.

When recalling the defeat on Wednesday, freshman Dennis Kravchenko said the young Minutemen team – composed of 15 underclassmen – may not have been ready for the then-No. 20 Terriers out of the gate.

However, the forward added that this time around, he expects a close battle between the two in-state rivals.

“I don’t think anything like that will ever happen again,” Kravchenko said. “I think our team has come a long way and we’re going to grind it out and do as much as we can to come out with two points.”

Coach John Micheletto echoed the belief in UMass’ growth since the start of the second half – in which the team has been 4-4-1. Micheletto said early losses like the one against BU have aided in their improvements by exposing certain areas to focus on.

“Over the first half, we’ve had to learn a lot of lessons,” Micheletto said. “Holding leads or being competitive and coming back from deficits in the third period are certainly two areas that we’ve addressed and we’ve certainly done a better job of lately.”

This ability to establish and maintain a lead was on display in Sunday’s 4-1 victory over the Warriors. The Minutemen took a 1-0 lead in the waning seconds of the second period before tallying three more goals to clinch the victory in the final frame.

Kravchenko, who scored the first two UMass goals in the win, said limiting turnovers and other mistakes was key in preserving the victory.

“Guys are just doing the little things,” Kravchenko said. “We’re playing a full 60 minutes and not giving up any little points in the game or making any little mistakes. We’re gutting it out and never taking a shift off.”

While Kravchenko’s scores provided all the offense needed for the win, the Minutemen’s defense also stood strong behind a 44-save day from senior goaltender Steve Mastalerz.

“Our goalies are playing well and the forwards are falling back and helping us so that’s been a really important aspect,” defenseman Brandon Montour said. “Even from practicing every day, you see the improvements keep coming.”

Montour, who joined UMass in late December after being declared eligible, said their defensive performance must be duplicated against a strong Terriers’ attack with the second highest scoring offense in the conference.

“We’re just going to have to be a lot smarter in our own end and make the simple plays instead of forcing things, because that’s when you are going to get in trouble,” Montour said.

Micheletto added that special teams play will be particularly crucial in Friday’s matchup. Coming off a defensive performance on Sunday that held Merrimack to 0-for-7 on the power play, Micheletto said that limiting the conference’s top three scorers in Jack Eichel (13 goals), Danny O’Regan (16) and Evan Rodrigues (9) is a top priority.

“Against BU’s power play, we’re going to have to be darn near perfect to continue the success that we’ve had,” Micheletto said.

Friday’s puck drop is set for 7:30 p.m. at Agganis Arena.

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