Another slow start dooms UMass hockey Friday night

By Ross Gienieczko

Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian
Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts hockey team has been playing with fire with its slow starts all season long. They’ve mounted some improbable comebacks to erase big deficits late in games, often using the third period to make up for some uninspiring play early on.

On the second night of the season, the Minutemen stormed back from a 3-0 deficit against Colorado to win 4-3. There was also the 6-1 deficit against New Hampshire in a game that ended with UMass rallying to earn a 6-6 tie. The Minutemen earned another draw on Nov. 15 after trailing Vermont 3-0 to start the third period.

It’s been working out so far, but it’s a dangerous game to play. In the long run, no matter what the talent level of the team, it’s hard to get that many breaks and make that many plays late in games.

And Friday night against Union, UMass got burned.

For a while, it looked like the standard, run of the mill third period comeback for the Minutemen.

After two periods of subpar hockey left them trailing 3-1, UMass flipped a switch and stormed back to tie the game. Austin Plevy fed Ray Pigozzi right in front of the net to bring UMass within one and Shane Walsh tied the game at the 8:01 mark on a top-shelf wrist shot.

But in the end, it was too little, too late. The Dutchmen won an offensive zone draw with just 14 seconds left in overtime and forward Sebastian Vidmar walked to the front of the net and beat Nic Renyard to stun the Minutemen and give Union a 4-3 victory.

UMass was buzzing in the third period, tying the game with ease and even threatening to score a game-winner. But the Minutemen missed some chances in the third period and overtime, and there was not a UMass player to be found near Vidmar when he walked in to score his game-winning goal. But it was another slow start and early deficit that put UMass in position to lose in the first place.

“I can’t remember a game that we’ve come out like we wanted to come out,” Walsh said.

The Minutemen scored the opening goal, but that doesn’t tell the story of the first period. A Dennis Kravchenko tripping penalty put the Dutchmen on the power play just seconds later, and any momentum gained was lost. UMass finished with just four shots on net in the period and turnovers in their own defensive zone would help Union build a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission.

“We obviously did not have our legs in the early going,” said Minutemen coach John Micheletto, who sounded as dejected as he’s been after any loss this season. “It was some really slow play of a team that’s built to play fast.

“We haven’t looked like that first period did in…. I don’t know. Ever.”

The Minutemen’s pace improved in the second period but UMass was still plagued by neutral zone turnovers. Late in the period, chaos broke loose in front of the Minutemen goal and Dutchmen captain Mike Vecchione was there to put Union up 3-1.

“If you’re not doing a full 60 minutes, you’re not going to get the results you want,” Walsh said.

On the season, UMass has been outscored 23-8 in the first period and 48-21 in the first and second combined. It hasn’t cost them as much as it probably should have, but Friday night, it doomed the Minutemen in their fifth loss in a row.

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