UMass hockey stumbles offensively against UConn’s tough defensive corps

By Jason Kates

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

HARTFORD, Conn. – If there was a list of best and worst case scenarios for the Massachusetts hockey team heading into the Hockey East tournament, its final regular season game Friday night against Connecticut would fall under the latter category.

For the second time this season against the Huskies (10-17-7, 7-11-4 HEA), the Minutemen gave up two first period goals en route to a 4-0 loss. The defeat marked UMass’ third time shut out this year.

The struggles began early for the Minutemen, as UConn dominated from a hustle standpoint and put the Minutemen under constant pressure in the first period.

Shawn Pauly and Patrick Kirtland each scored for the Huskies in the opening frame, quickly establishing momentum in UConn’s favor.

“Obviously we didn’t put 20 minutes in the first period together that we needed to in order to play road hockey in this league on the final weekend of the regular season,” coach John Micheletto said after the loss. “Down two goals to anyone on their home ice, especially with the short numbers we had tonight at the forward spot.

“As much as we took one step forward, we seem to take two steps backward.”

Freshman defenseman Brandon Montour, who was on the ice for all four Huskies goals, pointed out the difference in energy between the two teams as a key factor in UMass’ early struggles. Friday was UConn’s Senior Night.

“Maybe that’s because they wanted to have a good showing for their seniors like we did last weekend,” he said. “They played the overall better game than us. They were battling and beating us to the pucks, so that was probably the biggest thing tonight.”

“We just weren’t hungry enough tonight,” senior Troy Power added.

The Minutemen (10-21-2, 5-16-1 HEA) were outshot 11-3 in the opening 20 minutes, allowing two goals five minutes apart to dig themselves a 2-0 hole.

“I thought it was a fairly decent road (for) four minutes and 26 seconds and then we take a neutral zone boarding call, which shifts the momentum,” Micheletto said. “From that point forward, I thought it was a much different game.”

Led by a 29-save performance from goaltender Rob Nichols, the Huskies defense thwarted any scoring opportunities UMass had, with Nichols making several key saves in the final two periods.

“(Nichols) continues to have good nights against us,” Micheletto said. “The puck got behind him an awful lot, but yet never crossed the goal line. When you have opportunities against a good goaltender, you gotta take advantage of them.”

Montour added that despite UConn’s solid defensive corps, he thought the Minutemen had plenty of chances to make a comeback.

“We had our chances, I guess we just didn’t have it,” he said.

With Friday’s loss, UMass is locked into the No. 12 seed for the upcoming conference tournament that begins next week. While the Minutemen’s opponent will not be known until Saturday night, both Montour recognized the importance of moving on and getting focused for the most important weekend of the year.

“Obviously it was disappointing heading into the playoffs, but I think we just need to regroup here and come back Monday and work all week for our opponent next weekend,” Montour said.

“That’s where our heads are at and we just need to move forward.”

Jason Kates can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Jason_Kates.