UMass falls behind, drops inaugural Hockey East clash with UConn, 4-3



Last modified: Saturday, January 10, 2015

AMHERST —After climbing out of an early hole and then shaking off some disappointing moments in the middle of the game, the UMass hockey team was in position to earn some much-needed points and get 2015 started in much better fashion than 2014.

But with just over 6 minutes left, UConn freshman Spencer Naas broke into the Minuteman zone down the left-wing boards. He appeared too far outside to be dangerous, but his low, tough-angle wrist shot eluded UMass goalie Steve Mastalerz just inside the far post to give the Huskies a 4-3 win at the Mullins Center.

UMass (5-14-0, 1-10-0 Hockey East), which fell to 1-8 at home, will try to rebound next week when it hosts Maine at 7 p.m. on Jan. 9 and 10.

UConn (5-9-4, 3-4-1 HE) jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first period.

“We had a couple brain farts or lapses of awareness. That can’t happen. So, it’s an individual thing that impacts the team game,” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “If one guy doesn’t have coverage and one guy doesn’t make a play, now you’re in mistake-management mode. And that has a ripple effect.

“It wasn’t, in my opinion, an overall lack of focus or preparedness on our part. Big snafus have a ripple that everybody is going to be impacted by,” he continued. “That can’t happen. That’s a big part of being young. But at this point, we’re a lot of games in. Individuals can’t have that be part of their game when it does have such an impact on the other 19 guys in the lineup.”

UMass cut the deficit to 2-1 on Shane Walsh’s whirling backhander 1:44 into the second. The Minutemen thought they’d tied the score when Dennis Kravchenko’s shot through traffic beat goalie Rob Nichols with 3:11 left in the frame. But after looking at video, the referees ruled that Ray Pigozzi had interfered with the goalie.

“I would have to see it on video. It seemed to me that the goalie was out of the crease trying to establish position and our guy was trying to get position,” Micheletto said. “That didn’t go our way. Our guys managed the energy and funneled it appropriately and didn’t let that deter us from getting better, but I would love to have been tied 2-2 at that point.”

Things got worse for UMass less than two minutes into the third when Trevor Gerling’s second goal beat Mastalerz to make it 3-1.

UMass’ Frank Vatrano extended his goal streak to four straight games when he snapped Ben Gallacher’s pass past Nichols (33 saves) from the slot with 15:36 left to make 3-2.

Freshman Brandon Montour’s first collegiate goal was pretty and, at the time, critical. With UMass on the power play, Montour carried the puck across the offensive zone just inside the blue line, recognizing how much time and space he had to work with. When he saw an opening, he fired a laser through traffic, high and to the left side past Nichols to tie the game at 3-3, exciting the 2,838 fans at the Mullins Center.

After Naas’ go-ahead goal, UMass played the last 1:56 on a power play that became a 6-on-4 advantage when the Minutemen pulled the goalie.

“I thought we had good energy out there, especially in the last minute of the game,” Vatrano said. “Unfortunately the bounces didn’t go our way there at the end. That’s something we need to come up with.”

Mastalerz finished with 35 saves, but gave up more rebounds than his coach would have liked.

“I thought they got a lot of second-shot opportunities. We definitely want to keep pucks out of traffic,” Micheletto said. “In the third period, that goal coming off the wing can’t go in.”

The loss was UMass’ ninth straight in Hockey East. Micheletto said despite his team’s woes, he wouldn’t be happy with a win that came from a bad effort.

“I want us to aspire to greatness. I want us to be great in everything that we do. We talk about it all the time,” he said. “I didn’t think we were great against AIC, but we won (7-1). I’d much rather have us continue to play well for 60 minutes. I was happy with our effort and execution against Providence (4-1 loss) at the Catamount Cup.

“We didn’t win that game. I know, when the rubber meets the road, it’s about winning games. I have not lost that perspective,” he continued. “But in this process that we have, where we’re all trying to aspire to championship-caliber hockey, I know that we need to be great. We don’t need to just win games.”

BOBBLEHEAD NIGHT — The first 3,000 fans at UMass’ game against Maine on Jan. 10 will receive a skating Sam the Minuteman bobblehead.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage


 


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