Third period suddenly an advantage for UMass hockey in 2015-16

By Ross Gienieczko

Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian
Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian

It’s hard to define what it means to be a third period team, but it’s safe to say the 2014-15 Massachusetts hockey team was not one in any sense of the term.

Last year’s Minutemen allowed 83 goals in the first two periods throughout the year, but surrendered 69 goals in the third period and overtime alone, a Hockey East worst. It goes without saying that such a discrepancy is not the trait of a winning hockey team, and UMass finished 11-23-2.

But this season, UMass has kicked its ugly third period habit so far and it’s been a big reason the Minutemen have started the year 3-0.

“We’ve seen out of this group in the early going the resilience and belief in each other,” UMass coach John Micheletto said after Friday night’s 5-2 win against Sacred Heart. “I like the fact that we can take leads in the third, catch up in the third, extend leads in the third. Three games in, we’ve found a lot of different ways to do it, and that’s very encouraging.”

Friday’s game was nearly the polar opposite of a typical 2014-15 UMass loss. The Minutemen were not at their best in the opening two periods, as a Pioneers goal in the last five minutes of the second tied the game at 2-2.

In the third period, however, the script was reversed. UMass generated some early chances, but 13 minutes, eight seconds into the third, Dominic Trento found a wide-open Dennis Kravchenko in front of the net and Kravchenko blasted a one-time slap shot home to give the Minutemen a 3-2 lead.

Just two minutes, 34 seconds later, Trento found the puck in the middle of a net-front scrum and poked it home to make it 4-2.

Kravchenko added an empty-net goal to finish a hat trick and cap a third period that saw UMass outscore Sacred Heart 3-0.

“We were playing fine. I thought we were happy with our game. We controlled the puck a lot in the first and second period,” Pioneers coach C.J. Marottolo said. “In the third period, we gave some of their really skilled guys some really good looks, and we lost some one-on-one battles that really turned the tide tonight.”

It’s hard to say why the Minutemen have found new life in the final 20 minutes of the game, but Kravchenko said he thinks UMass has been able to simplify its game.

“We’re not getting ahead of ourselves in the third period. We’re staying calm and doing what we have to do,” Kravchenko said. “Sometimes we’re down, sometimes we’re up. We’re just sticking to the game plan and making sure we do the right things and hopefully get a win.”

Micheletto, on the other hand, said he was just happy the team keeps finding ways to win.

It’s not the first time UMass has dominated a third period this year. Last Saturday against Colorado College, the Minutemen stormed back from a 3-0 deficit, scoring four times in the third to earn a 4-3 victory. The night before, UMass scored twice in the third to clinch a 6-3 victory against the Tigers.

By the numbers, the Minutemen have outscored opponents 9-to-2 in the final frame to this point. In contrast to last year, they’ve tightened up defensively in the third, limiting opponents to just two goals in the third against six in the opening two frames.

UMass has avoided disaster in the third period this year so far. In fact, it’s been one of their advantages to this point.

If they can keep it up, the Minutemen will see more results like Friday night, and fewer of the heartbreaking defeats they suffered in 2014-15.

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