UMass hockey falls flat in regular season finale to UConn

By Anthony Chiusano

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

HARTFORD, Conn. – Following last Saturday’s emotional overtime victory on Senior Night, the Massachusetts hockey team headed to Hartford, Connecticut, with a chance to ride momentum into its regular season finale Friday night against Connecticut.

But instead, the Minutemen (10-21-2, 5-15-1 Hockey East) were stymied by the Huskies in a 4-0 defeat, locking them into the No. 12 seed in the upcoming Hockey East Tournament.

Shawn Pauly initiated the game’s scoring eight minutes, 38 seconds into the first period, providing UConn (10-17-7, 7-11-4 HEA) with all the offense it needed behind goaltender Rob Nichol’s 29 saves.

“It was obviously not the result we wanted,” UMass defenseman Brandon Montour said. “It looked like we came prepared but clearly from the get-go, we didn’t have the energy and momentum that we needed to win.

“We thought we could take this team lightly and obviously they’re a good team, so they took it from us.”

Patrick Kirtland added to the Huskies’ lead five minutes after Pauly’s opening score to hand the Minutemen an early 2-0 deficit at the first intermission. Minutemen coach John Micheletto said that a lack of energy in the opening period contributed to their early struggles.

“We didn’t put 20 minutes in the first period together that we needed to in order to play road hockey in the final weekend of the regular season,” Micheletto said. “You get down two goals to anyone on their home ice… it’s going to be a tough road forward.”

While both of the UConn’s opening frame goals came from short range, Micheletto noted UMass’ struggles in getting the puck toward the net. The Minutemen were outshot 13-3 in the first period.

“I didn’t think that we got to the inside tonight,” Micheletto said. “That was on us. No disrespect to UConn, but I just don’t think that we battled in the difficult areas.”

Senior captain Troy Power echoed Micheletto’s assessment, adding that the Huskies proved successful in limiting UMass’ attack in both matchups this season. On Jan. 2, the Minutemen lost to the Huskies 4-3 at the Mullins Center.

“This team in particular, they did a good job in keeping us outside and I think we just didn’t work hard enough to get into those tough areas to get second and third opportunities” Power said.

The Minutemen saw increased chances in the second and third period but couldn’t beat Nichols, who recorded his fourth shutout of the season. More than half his saves Friday (15) came in the third period.

“When we have opportunities against a good goaltender, you have to take advantage of them,” Micheletto said. “When you don’t, it continues to give him and the team in front of him confidence. I think you saw that (Friday).”

Nichols’ counterpart in goal, Steve Mastalerz, finished with just 11 saves in 27 minutes. After allowing UConn’s third goal 6:49 into the second period – off of a Trevor Gerling backhand shot from a difficult angle – Mastalerz was replaced by Henry Dill.

Mastalerz was coming off a two-game set last weekend against Providence College in which he made 82 total saves. However, despite the senior’s short outing on Friday, Micheletto said Mastalerz was not completely at fault. Micheletto instead criticized the defensive play in front of the crease.

“We didn’t give him a lot of help in the first 20 (minutes),” Micheletto said. “I obviously didn’t like how the third one went in but prior to that there wasn’t an issue from (Mastalerz). There was an issue with the guys in front of him.”

Dill made 17 saves following the switch and allowed the final goal of the game 9:48 seconds into the third period when Cody Sharib shot it between his legs off of a pass from Joey Ferriss.

Depth issues continue

 Bothered by injuries all season long, Friday night proved no differently for UMass.

After returning from a two-game absence to play last Saturday, senior Steven Guzzo sat out of Friday’s loss due to his lingering, undisclosed injury.

Also missing from the Minutemen’s lineup were freshmen Riley McDougall and Patrick Lee. Lee left last Saturday’s game in the second period after taking a hit against the Friars.

“Nine healthy forwards (Friday) is difficult to manage,” Micheletto said. “When you’re piecing together lines on power plays and penalty kills, that’s sometimes difficult.”

Dressing in place of the trio were forward Anthony Petrella and defensemen Brennan Baxandall and Maddison Smiley. Smiley, who scored his first goal last weekend, played his sixth straight game as a forward.

While Micheletto said that he’s hopeful the team’s health situation will improve this week, Power added that it is important for the forwards to be prepared for whatever further line alterations might be made.

“Lines are going to be juggled,” Power said. “We just have to be ready to play with whoever and just give it 100 percent no matter the situation.”

With the regular season officially over and UMass set as the No. 12 seed, the Minutemen will face the conference’s No. 5 team in the opening round of the Hockey East tournament next weekend. The winner will be decided in a best-of-three series beginning Friday, March 6.

“We just have to regroup,” Power said. “We have a lot of time between now and the playoffs and we just have to focus and think back on what defines us as a hockey team and the things that we can achieve if we play together and realize how bad we want it.”

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