Flaherty: Minutemen rediscover spark, sweep Vermont at home

No. 2 UMass learned its lesson on Friday night

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Flaherty: Minutemen rediscover spark, sweep Vermont at home

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

By Liam Flaherty

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Something was missing when the Massachusetts hockey team secured its 16th win on Friday night.

As No. 2 UMass coach Greg Carvel put it after downing Vermont, the Minutemen (17-3-0, 9-1-0 Hockey East Association) were lacking the ‘spark’ that carried them to a record start in the season’s first half.

On Saturday, however, when the Catamounts returned for a rematch at the Mullins Center, UMass went back to its roots and rediscovered its will to dominate, a feature that’s been missing since winter break.

“When we went away, the fear was that we’d fall off our game and it took us until tonight to get it back,” Minutemen coach Greg Carvel said after the sweep. “We did some soul searching as a team last night and today. I wasn’t really happy with our effort last night — just inconsistent and elements of our game that have been missing since we returned — and tonight they all seemed to come back.”

UMass assistant captain and defenseman Cale Makar worded it perfectly after completing a four-point performance. “Tonight, it felt like we deserved it,” he said, as opposed to Friday’s, out-of-character win.

Makar scored early to make it 1-0 in the first period, but UVM (8-11-1, 1-8-1 HEA) tied it in the second.

With three minutes to play in the frame, sophomore winger Oliver Chau notched his second goal of the series to retake the lead and, in the third, the Minutemen refused to let up. Holding a 2-1 advantage, Marc Del Gaizo, Makar, and Mitchell Chaffee each joined in on the scoring party and closed out the win.

“It felt really good,” Chau said. “We carried the play up to that goal and to finally break through was a good sign for our team. We carried it onto the third and it worked out. As a team, we took a step back [after] break, but tonight was a statement game. We broke through and went back to our old ways.”

From top to bottom, UMass was a different team than the one that skated off the ice the night before.

On Friday, the group lacked physicality and, with the help of a team-wide sickness, seemed to be missing the extra jump in its skates that many of its scorers utilize to outwill and outmaneuver their opposition.

That wasn’t the case on Saturday, however, as several skaters, such as Bobby Trivigno, Chaffee, and Jake Gaudet, applied consistent pressure and opened up the ice laying big hits on unsuspecting Catamounts.

Trivigno didn’t record any points in the back-half win, but the freshman made a big impact early on and energized his teammates, much like the 5-foot-8 winger does for the third line on a nightly basis.

On Friday, the Minutemen relied on their bottom six forwards to get the job done. On Saturday, the standouts were involved in a big way, as Makar, Chaffee, and M. Del Gaizo secured multi-point outings.

With the sweep of UVM complete, and Saturday’s victory secured in dominant, first-half fashion,  the Minutemen now have a week to return to full health and continue bolstering the depth of their lineup.

Breaking through its second-half slide comes at a perfect time for UMass, as a big-time series against No. 12 Northeastern awaits next weekend. It will be extremely interesting to see what the Minutemen learn from their rocky start to league play, as the games and points only begin to increase in importance.

Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @_LiamFlaherty.