Oleg Yevenko’s unsung performance crucial in a win over Providence

By Ross Gienieczko

Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian
Alec Zabrecky/Daily Collegian

Oleg Yevenko didn’t appear on the score sheet after the Massachusetts hockey team’s 2-1 overtime win against Providence. There was no flashy stick work, between the legs dekes or thunderous slap shots.

But those things don’t define Yevenko. And on Senior Night, playing in front of his parents in a UMass jersey for the first time, Yevenko showed what’s made him a stalwart on the blue line the last four seasons – a combination of toughness, work ethic and defensive-minded play.

Providence got its share of opportunities in front of Minutemen goaltender Steve Mastalerz, including several scrums in front of the net. But led by the 6-foot-7 Yevenko, UMass consistently cleared the front of the net and denied second chance opportunities.

“They were the type of team that likes to grind it out and dump pucks in,” Yevenko said. “It was mostly about being determined to touch first and work with your d partner in getting it out of the zone and making simple plays.”

The Hockey East leader in blocked shots also made his mark in that department. Two more blocks pushed his total to 72 on the year, good for third in the country.

And of course, Yevenko was a key cog in a UMass penalty kill that was 5-for-5 killing penalties.

“I feel like we really made a step, especially in terms of being aggressive on loose pucks,” Yevenko said. We had some huge blocks out there, and Steve (Mastalerz) did a good job when we couldn’t block it.”

Yevenko’s numbers are unspectacular. As a defensive defenseman, he is rarely going to factor into scoring plays. Even his plus/minus rating is a bad way to evaluate the senior from Minsk, Belarus. His -21 mark is last on the team and certainly not an ideal number.

But playing on a team like UMass, the 58th team out of 59 in the country in goals against, the plus/minus rating for a top defenseman is never going to be good, and it isn’t always the best indicator for success.

Take Seth Jones of the Nashville Predators as an example. Widely considered one of the best young defensemen in the NHL, Jones notched a -23 playing for a porous Nashville team in 2013-14.

Saturday’s performance against the Friars was a good example of what Yevenko can bring to the table. He didn’t register a point and had a plus/minus of zero, but he was strong defensively – limiting space, logging big minutes against the top Providence lines, clearing the front of the net and using his size as an advantage.

Yevenko picked a good night to have one of his best games of the season, as it was a special night for his whole family. His parents Sergey and Zinaida watched him play live for the first time in a UMass uniform and first time at all since the IIHF World Championship in Belarus last spring.

“It was great. I wasn’t a big fan of the big gap between warming up and maybe 30 minutes of anthems,” Yevenko chuckled. “But it was great. I’m glad they could come out. I’m sure it was a great experience for them and I can’t wait to see what they have to say about it.”

NHL potential?

Yevenko will be an undrafted free agent at season’s end, and with his imposing frame, it’s natural to wonder if the senior will be picked up by an NHL team. Several factors indicate he could get offered a contract by a pro team.

Obviously, his size is what would draw attention from professional clubs. Yevenko has already attended summer development camps with the Boston Bruins, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders, so it seems reasonable one of those clubs or another team would show interest.

Yevenko also has experience against NHL-level competition. At the IIHF World Championship, he skated for Belarus and averaged over 17 minutes of ice time per game. He lined up against the likes of Evgeni Malkin, Seth Jones and other professionals scattered throughout the tournament.

Finally, Yevenko’s style of play is more suited to the professional level. As a conservative, defensively focused player, Yevenko would have an easier time fitting in with the rigid structure pro teams demand on defense. In college, Yevenko’s style isn’t a perfect fit with the fast-paced transition game most NCAA teams favor.

In fact, Yevenko dropped 20 pounds in an effort to be more mobile for UMass’s style, weight he could likely regain if asked to by pro teams.

Add up all the factors and it’s a compelling case at least one team will come calling at the end of the year.

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