UMass avoids déjà vu in emotional overtime victory on Senior Night

By Anthony Chiusano

Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian
Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts men’s hockey team found itself in an eerily similar situation Saturday night.

One night after the Minutemen allowed a game-tying goal with eight seconds remaining in regulation which led to an eventual overtime loss to No. 12 Providence, UMass once again headed into overtime following another blown third period lead against the Friars.

But this time the Minutemen (10-20-2, 5-15-1 Hockey East) prevailed behind a game-winning goal from Frank Vatrano three minutes, 50 seconds into overtime on Senior night at the Mullins Center.

“To get that win for the seniors, it’s really special,” Vatrano said. “It’s definitely a game that I’m never going to forget and it was great to send these guys out on top at home.”

Vatrano’s goal came on a rebound opportunity in a crowded crease in front of Providence goaltender Jon Gillies. Brandon Montour originally started the attack with a pass to Marc Hetnik who shot it toward the net.

After multiple sticks touched the puck in front – including those of Troy Power and Dennis Kravchenko, who were credited with assists on the play – it eventually found an open Vatrano on the left side of the net.

“It was kind of a flurry in front and it just landed right there for me,” Vatrano said. “I got a few hacks at it and I didn’t know if it went in or not but I saw everyone come off the bench. It was pretty rewarding.”

The game-winner came 29 seconds after the Friars (19-11-2, 11-8-1 HEA) appeared to record their second straight overtime victory over the Minutemen, after Mark Jankowski poked the puck past UMass goalie Steve Mastalerz in a similar scrum in front of the net.

But it would not be déjà vu on Saturday.

Referees reversed the call with 1:39 left in overtime, ruling illegal contact was made on Mastalerz. One night prior, Minutemen coach John Micheletto expressed frustration with the referees for not overturning the Friars’ game-winning goal in a similar situation.

This time, he got his wish.

“We had to be ready for another puck drop and another minute and 10 seconds to play,” Micheletto said about the overturned goal. “It’s been (over) 120 minutes this weekend of pretty grueling hockey.

“Our guys are pretty physically and emotionally tired right now and I would guess (Providence) is as well, not only from the play but from the emotional highs and lows of the way that both games were officiated and with the reviews and all that went into the weekend.”

UMass freshman Maddison Smiley put UMass on the board first, scoring his first career goal at the 16:27 mark in the second period to make it 1-0.

A natural defenseman, Smiley has seen increased action as a forward recently due to ongoing injury issues for UMass.

“It’s nice that he got rewarded with his first goal,” Micheletto said. “We put him in an odd spot as a guy who’s played defense and all of a sudden we’re asking him to play forward. But I think he’s never skipped a beat.”

At the backend of the Minutemen’s defense, Mastalerz made 42 saves Saturday against an aggressive Friars’ attack.

“We didn’t finish, but we have to give Mastalerz a lot of credit,” Providence coach Nate Leaman said. “He was really holding pucks well today and we weren’t getting many second chances.”

The one goal allowed by Mastalerz came with 4:40 remaining in the third period by Noel Acciari, who scored the game-winner for Providence in Friday’s overtime.

Mastalerz picked up his third win of the year in what began as a tough season for the senior. But after starting off 0-7 in net, Mastalerz said that he feels like he’s peaking at the right time of the season for UMass.

“I’ve felt comfortable all weekend,” said Mastalerz, who made 82 total saves this weekend and was one of six seniors celebrating Senior Night.

“It’s definitely an exciting way to go out (on Senior Night) although it was probably the longest weekend of the year with two overtime games and a lot of shots my way. But going out with an overtime win is pretty special.”

The Minutemen close out their regular season schedule next Friday against Connecticut on the road in a 7 p.m. matchup.

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