UMass falls to Team USA 4-0 in exhibition Friday night

By Jason Kates

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

There is arguably no greater honor in sports than earning the chance to represent your home country in an international competition.

Despite a 4-0 loss to the United States junior national team Friday night, the Massachusetts hockey team got the rare opportunity to go up against some of the most elite 17 and 18-year-olds this country has to offer.

In a week where final exams, injuries and practices all came together, UMass (6-8-4, 2-4-4 Hockey East) coach John Micheletto thought his team did a nice job of coming together and competing versus some of the country’s top talent.

“I thought we showed a lot of good mental fortitude today,” Micheletto said after the game. “We were all talking about where our energy and focus would be, so I thought that was something we can build on.”

“We got really good minutes out of our freshmen defensemen tonight, they’ve been good but I think that’s a real good springboard for those guys that we’re going to need,” he added.

Two goals and an assist from Sonny Milano, a first-round pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2014 NHL Entry draft, led the Americans to the win over the Minutemen, with forwards Colin White and Christian Dvorak chipping in an additional goal and two assists.

Micheletto said he liked his team’s energy early, but ultimately a couple long shifts halfway through the game hurt.

“I thought our guys did a really nice job of having some good minutes early,” he said. “In the second period our puck management and getting out of the zone cost us a couple of long shifts, which with our energy was was really costly.

“I think from that point forward we had to manufacture a little bit more, but I thought we had a couple of good opportunities. Obviously, not enough against this caliber team.”

Senior Shane Walsh acknowledged that the factor of not knowing what to expect from the U.S. team played a part in the contest, but was also appreciative of the occasion.

“You don’t really know what to expect, but you still go out there and compete, and I think it was a cool experience for all of us,” Walsh said.

One of the biggest performances of the night came from third-string goaltender Alex Wakaluk, who got the start and played all 60 minutes, making 30 saves.

Wakaluk, who entered this game with just 28 minutes, 33 seconds of ice time, admitted he was a bit anxious heading into Friday’s exhibition.

“As a goalie, you always try to stay ready in practice, you practice reps and try to simulate like you’re in the game,” Wakaluk said. “I was a little bit nervous going in, but I just tried to have fun out there and enjoy the experience.

With a 15-day hiatus before a nonconference affair at Army Jan. 2, Walsh believes the break is coming at a good time, with players getting the chance to spend some time with friends and family during the holidays.

“I think the guys are excited to get back home, but at the same time I think it’s good to go into break and think about the last month and what we need to do to get better and come back with a little chip on our shoulder and have a good second half,” Walsh said.

“It’s definitely coming at a good time, but at the same time I think it’s important to take some time over break to reflect and come back strong,” Walsh added.

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