UMass hockey’s comeback bid dashed by UConn

By Mark Chiarelli

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts hockey team is no stranger to the perils of attempting to overcome early deficits this season.

On many occasions, the Minutemen have fallen short in that endeavor. UMass again fell behind Friday night to Connecticut, allowing the Huskies to establish a 2-0 lead after one period. Yet the Minutemen clawed their way back into the game, erasing a two-goal lead in the third period and drawing even with the Huskies 3-3.

But it still wasn’t enough.

UMass allowed UConn winger Spencer Naas to score 13 minutes, 55 seconds into the third period on a relatively surprising goal, and the Huskies went on to win 4-3 in front of 2,838 at the Mullins Center.

“That goal coming on off the wing shouldn’t go in,” UMass coach John Micheletto said.

Naas carried the puck into the UMass zone off the left wing and beat Minutemen goaltender Steve Mastalerz on a difficult, low shot which banked in off the far post for his second goal of the game.

The goal came roughly four minutes after UMass defender Brandon Montour tied the game at 3-3.

Montour, who committed a penalty at the beginning of the third period which lead to UConn’s third goal of the game, flipped a wrist shot on net from beneath the blue line to beat Huskies goaltender Rob Nichols with one second remaining on a power play 9:01 into the third period. It was his first career goal as a member of the Minutemen.

The goal completed a comeback initiated by UMass forward Frank Vatrano.

Vatrano netted his 12th goal of the year 4:24 into the third period after he gathered a loose rebound in the slot, spun and beat Nichols on a wrist shot.

The Minutemen had a strong opportunity to tie the game in the final minute. Following a UConn penalty, Micheletto pulled Mastalerz and UMass played the final 75 seconds with a 6-on-4 advantage, but couldn’t net the equalizer.

“I thought we had really good energy out there, especially in the last minute of the game,” Vatrano said. “Unfortunately, the bounces didn’t go our way.”

It wasn’t the only time something didn’t go their way.

Trailing 2-1 nearly 17 minutes into the third period, UMass forward Dennis Kravchenko appeared to tie the game 2-2 on what was initially ruled a goal. But after officials reviewed the play, it was ruled a non-goal after a UMass player interfered with Nichols.

“It looked to me that the goalie was out of the crease and was trying to establish position and our guy was trying to get position,” said Micheletto, who said he’d need to see the play on replay again.

“We’ll take whatever we can get at this point,” Micheletto said. “Obviously that didn’t go our way. I thought our guys managed the energy and funneled it in appropriately from there and didn’t let that deter us from getting better. From that standpoint, I thought it was fine, but we’d love to be tied 2-2 at that point.”

Following the game, Micheletto and Vatrano lamented effort and individual lapses, specifically in the first period, which put his team in a hole. UConn went up 2-0 on goals from Naas and Trevor Gerling.

“I thought we came out flat and that’s something that can’t happen,” Vatrano said. “Especially in this conference, you have to give a full 60 minutes every night and we didn’t do that tonight.”

“We had a couple of brain farts, lapses of awareness, and that can’t happen,” Micheletto said.

UMass committed four penalties for a total of eight minutes. Mastalerz made 35 saves in the loss, dropping to 0-7 on the season. Minutemen forward Shane Walsh scored his third goal of the game in the second period.

According to Micheletto, a number of self-inflicted mistakes downed the Minutemen.

“We had momentary lapses in the early going that can’t happen,” he said. “They wind up in the back of our net. We eliminate those in our game and then we give up a goal in the third that we can’t give up.”

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