UMass hockey strives for repeat performance against UMass Lowell this weekend

By Anthony Chiusano

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)
(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

It’s not often a college hockey team faces the same opponent three consecutive times, but that’s the challenge Massachusetts faces this weekend in preparation for No. 16 UMass Lowell.

A week after UMass (9-18-1, 4-13-1 Hockey East) defeated the River Hawks 5-2 in their first head-to-head matchup of the season, the Minutemen once again host UMass Lowell Friday in a nonconference affair before traveling to the Paul E. Tsongas Center Saturday night.

According to freshman Dennis Kravchenko, the scheduling quirk presents an equal test for both teams as they try to make adjustments based on the opening matchup. He added that the familiarity that comes from studying each other’s 5-on-5 play heightens the importance in converting on special teams play.

“It’s a grind as each team starts figuring out the other guys’ abilities and good things that each other does,” Kravchenko said. “Power play and penalty kill is where you really need to dominate and put the puck in the net.”

Kravchenko was a key contributor in UMass’ victory last Saturday, tallying a goal and an assist, extending his point streak to a career-high five games. Redshirt sophomore Frank Vatrano added two goals in the Minutemen’s second five-goal performance in their last three games.

Vatrano finished with a team-high nine shots against the River Hawks (16-10-3, 9-7-2 HEA). After being denied on several scoring opportunities close to the net by UMass Lowell goaltender Kevin Boyle in the opening period, the forward finally capitalized on his chances in the final two periods.

“I got a lot of chances against Lowell,” Vatrano said. “And when you start getting chances early in the game, it starts to build a lot of confidence. I finally bared down my opportunities and it was great to be rewarded by that.”

While UMass’ offense found success against UMass Lowell’s backline, Minutemen coach John Micheletto said an encore of UMass’ strong defensive outing Saturday will be important in limiting the conference’s second-highest scoring team.

“It’s about continuing to try to keep teams on the perimeter when they’re in our zone, blocking shots when we get an opportunity to and then making them earn 200 feet of ice by not turning the puck over in bad areas,” Micheletto said. “That’s been our mindset all year, it’s just a matter of making sure there’s consistent execution.”

The Minutemen blocked 19 shots Saturday and only allowed two third period goals, both coming via the power play.

Steve Mastalerz backed up his defense with 28 saves in net. After beginning the season 0-7 in his starts, the senior has earned UMass’ last two wins.

While Micheletto said that he plans to continue using a two-goalie tandem with Mastalerz and freshman Henry Dill – who’s started 19 games this season—he acknowledged the impact that Mastalerz can have on the Minutemen toward the end of the season if he continues to show consistency.

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

On the injury front

Dealing with health issues, Steven Iacobellis’ and Troy Power’s weekend availability is still unclear, Micheletto said at Tuesday’s practice.

Micheletto seemed optimistic about Iacobellis, who was medically cleared for Monday’s practice and “seems to be in good shape.” The sophomore, who is tied for third on the team in points (19), missed UMass’ two games this past weekend due to an undisclosed injury.

As for Power, Micheletto said he hasn’t practiced since leaving Friday’s game against Northeastern after taking an elbow to the head in the first period. The senior captain has 14 points this season.

“Troy’s still on a day-to-day evaluation basis,” Micheletto said. “We’ll continue to monitor that every day.”

Both matchups begin at 7 p.m.

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