Chaffee’s offensive impact key for UMass in win over Maine

Chaffee with a goal and assist

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Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Evan Marinofsky, Collegian Staff

On Mitchell Chaffee’s sixth multi-point night of the season for the Massachusetts hockey team, the sequence that described his play best didn’t even have him putting up a point.

Just under 10 minutes remained en route to a 4-1 win for UMass (11-4-1, 6-3-1 Hockey East) over Maine (8-7-3, 4-6-2 HEA) on Saturday night. Chaffee stuck with the puck in front of Black Bear goalie Jeremy Swayman. He got the goalie on his stomach and tried to roof it with two defenders on him. Swayman got it with the glove and the puck became loose once again.

No. 21 then knocked Maine d-man Cameron Spicer off the puck in the corner and regained possession. That started a series of offensive chances for the Minutemen that had them on the doorstep of extending the lead multiple times.

“He’s just a very complete player,” head coach Greg Carvel said of Chaffee. “He plays the game the right way. He plays smart. He plays heavy. He’s just a catalyst. He’s as effective a player as there is at this level because he has all those assets.”

Sometimes this season, Chaffee doesn’t get the attention he deserves because, well, his level of consistency had made it expected. Last season was his breakout campaign that saw the then-sophomore become a First Team All-American and Hockey East scoring champion. In the Minutemen’s 16 games this season, he’s posted at least one point in 12 of them.

On Saturday night, it was impossible to not give Chaffee the floor.

The now-junior’s impact was felt most with roughly seven minutes to play in the second period.

UMass just couldn’t seem to solve Maine goalie Jeremy Swayman. They’d done it five times less than 24 hours prior but up until that point, the white ice behind Swayman remained a mystery.

And then came Mitchell Chaffee batting the puck out of mid-air from right in front of the Maine goaltender, giving UMass its first goal of the night in route to victory. It was a classic Chaffee score – finishing off a big goal in a dirty area.

The goal put Chaffee tied for second in goals in the country with 12.

“That was a huge goal,” Carvel said. “It’s one of those games where you wonder if Swayman’s just going to keep getting more confidence and find a way to hold us off until his team can score. Chaffee scoring that broke the dam and then we scored twice pretty quickly after that it was a huge factor in the game.”

Later in the period, the junior assisted on John Leonard’s goal to give UMass the 2-0 lead. That helper also came right in front of the net. He would’ve had the goal if his shot didn’t miss the open net behind Swayman by just a bit.

Fortunately for him, No. 9 was there to clean it up.

“Yeah, I meant to go five-hole and it actually slid wide,” Chaffee said of the sequence. “But luckily [Leonard] was there right on the back door and he put it in.”

Chaffee currently sits at 21 points this season. It’s not so far-fetched to think he’ll reach, and maybe even exceed, his totals from last season, which totaled 42. At the rate he’s at right now, he’s on pace to put up roughly 44 points by the end of these next 18 regular season games.

This is Chaffee’s third season in college hockey. He’s graduated from the massive peaks and valleys of a freshman year. He experienced being on the best team in Hockey East, a run to the National Title game and a loss in the National Title game his sophomore year.

So, what is there left to learn?

“It’s kind of just learning from the little things now,” Chaffee said. “Especially when you can continue to go through your college career, it’s more about those little things and that’s how you get better. And that’s what I’ve been taking to my game, the more every game I play. I try and look at what I could’ve done and try to improve on it.”

The only real knock on Chaffee’s game is that with his power forward-style of play at 6’0” and 205 lbs., he’s not the fastest guy on the ice.

But his boss doesn’t believe the lack of breakneck speed is a problem for the Rockford, Michigan native.

“Well, once he gets going, speed isn’t an issue for him,” Carvel said of Chaffee. “When he gets to his full speed and then uses his power, we saw it tonight. He carries a lot of pucks into the zone with guys draped on him.

“He’s not the best skater in the world, but he’s a powerful, powerful skater and I’m glad he’s on our team,” Carvel added. “I’d hate to coach against him.”

Evan Marinofsky can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @emarinofsky.