Gienieczko: Steve Mastalerz gives UMass best chance to win

By Ross Gienieczko

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

When you look down at the stat sheet, there aren’t any statistics that stand out for either of the Massachusetts hockey team’s goaltenders.

On a team that ranks 58th out of 59 schools in the country in goals against, any stat you see won’t impress you in the slightest bit. However, the numbers for freshman Henry Dill and senior Steve Mastalerz are quite similar to each other in the two major categories – goals against average and save percentage. Dill holds a slight advantage in the GAA category (4.10 to 4.14) while Mastalerz holds the advantage in save percentage .883 to .872.

While those numbers are almost mirror images of each other, it’s Dill who’s been getting the job done in the win-loss column. His seven wins on the season are five more than Mastalerz’s two. In fact, with a record of 7-10-1, Dill has been the workhorse for most of the season,  someone UMass coach John Micheletto has said on multiple occasions gives them a chance to win most nights he’s in net.

But statistics can only be so telling, especially in a sport like hockey, where most of the action is not recorded on any stat sheet.

And when you throw statistics out the window, Mastalerz gives the Minutemen the best chance to win for the remainder of the season.

Dill has shown flashes of being a number one goaltender this season, but since recording back-to-back wins against Air Force and Maine, he’s regressed. After allowing four goals in three consecutive games, he had his worst outing of the year against Boston University, allowing nine Terrier goals en route to a 9-5 loss for the Minutemen. Of course, it was also one of the team’s worst games of the year, and it’s not fair to hang all nine goals on Dill’s head, but that’s a story for a different day.

Mastalerz, on the other hand, has been trending in the other direction. After starting the year 0-6, Mastalerz is 2-2 in his last four starts with a save percentage of .921.

His performance against then-No. 14 Merrimack on Jan. 25 was the best a UMass goaltender has played this season. Mastalerz faced 45 shots and stopped 44 of them, leading the Minutemen to a 4-1 victory over the Warriors and only lost the shutout while the team was shorthanded in the final minutes of play. His next start against Northeastern was less stellar – UMass lost 5-3 – but they entered the period with a 3-2 lead behind some timely saves from the veteran goalie.

Earlier in the season, another loss might have shaken the senior’s confidence. But Mastalerz and the Minutemen responded with a 5-2 victory over, at the time, No. 12 UMass Lowell, signifying his effort against Merrimack was no fluke. It was another win over a nationally-ranked opponent, and Mastalerz stopped 28 of 30 shots in the win.

“I wasn’t putting full games together earlier in the year, and now I seem to be putting in the full 60 minutes,” Mastalerz said.

Dill may be able to provide those kinds of performances in the future. But Mastalerz is over his early season slump, and he’s churning them out right now.

“When he’s on, he’s one of the best goalies in the league,” senior defenseman Mike Busillo said.

When Mastalerz is on his game, the Minutemen are a different team. They can get more aggressive offensively, knowing there’s a good chance their veteran goalie will cover for their mistakes. They’re a sounder defensive team when he’s funneling rebounds into corners instead of right between the dots. And most importantly, they’re a calmer team, feeding off Mastalerz’s relaxed demeanor.

“I’ve stayed calm,” Mastalerz said when asked about his turnaround. “Obviously, starting out 0-6 or whatever it was isn’t easy. You just have to stay calm and stick with the game plan.”

As the Minutemen enter the final stretch of their season and prepare for postseason play, Mastalerz is the more experienced goaltender. He’s played in 69 games throughout four seasons with UMass, and is the only goalie on the roster with playoff experience – he made 31 saves in a 2-1 loss to Vermont in last year’s Hockey East Tournament.

“He’s been in the league for the past four years now. So he’s seen a lot of good players, gone against the top players in the country. We feel comfortable with him back there,” Busillo said.

“A guy like Steve is a veteran presence who’s played an awful lot of college hockey games,” Micheletto said. “In the stretch run, to have another veteran voice and presence in the lineup is important.”

If UMass wants the best chance at making some noise, especially with the Hockey East Championship Tournament quickly approaching, Mastalerz should be the man in net.

Ross Gienieczko can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @RossGien.