Frank Vatrano, UMass hockey eager for Hockey East playoff series with Notre Dame



Last modified: Saturday, March 21, 2015

A year ago, Frank Vatrano was just getting his feet wet.

After the NCAA forced him to sit out the entire regular season after switching his enrollment from Boston College to UMass, Vatrano made his Minuteman debut in the playoffs. At the time, the first round of Hockey East playoffs was single elimination. He played one game, a 2-1 loss to Vermont and then had to wait an entire offseason before his second game.

Trip No. 2 to the playoffs is guaranteed to last longer as the first round is best-of-three. Vatrano and the No. 12-seeded Minutemen (10-21-2, 5-16-1 Hockey East) will play Notre Dame (15-16-5, 10-7-5) Friday at 7:35 p.m. in South Bend, IndianaGame two is Saturday at 7:05 p.m. If game three is necessary, it will be Sunday at 7:05 p.m.

Despite coming in as the bottom seed, UMass heads to Indiana optimistic. After opening the season 4-12-0, the Minutemen were 6-8-2 down the stretch and felt like they were gaining momentum.

“Everything we’re doing now, we’re just taking steps forward. From Christmas on it’s been incredible. If we keep going like that it’s going to be a great program to come to and play hockey,” Vatrano said. “I think we’re a scary 12 seed. The way we’ve been playing, I think we’ll be a scary team in the playoffs.”

UMass coach John Micheletto thought his team reached a new level Feb. 20-21 when they took Providence, which finished second in Hockey East, to overtime twice. The Minutemen and Friars each won once.

They took a step back last weekend falling to Connecticut, 4-0, with four regular forwards — Steven Guzzo, Riley MacDougall, Patrick Lee and Dominic Trento — missing from the lineup with undisclosed injuries. Micheletto was hopeful to get some or all of them back Friday.

“All things considered I think we’re in a pretty good spot right now,” he said.

Vatrano showed no signs of rust in his first full year. He’s a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award with 17 goals, which puts him fourth in Hockey East. He’s eager to take on his second playoffs.

“Last year seems like so long ago. It’s nice to have a full year under my belt. I’m excited to get the playoffs going,” Vatrano said. “I wasn’t expecting to have this good of a year. I was just taking it game by game, getting more and more comfortable. I want to see what we can do in the playoffs.”

Notre Dame finished fifth in Hockey East despite having an overall record under .500. It narrowly missed the bye that comes with finishing in the top four as it was just a point behind fourth-place Lowell and two points behind Boston College and Providence, which tied for second.

Notre Dame swept the regular season series with UMass at the Mullins Center, 7-5 and 4-0, on Dec. 5 and 6.

The Irish have momentum entering the series as they went 2-1-1 against Boston University (1-0-1) and Boston College (1-1-0) over their final four regular-season contests.

Sophomore Vince Hinostroza leads Notre Dame in scoring as his 38 points (eight goals, 30 assists) puts him fifth in Hockey East. Senior defenseman Robbie Russo is third in scoring among blueliners with 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists).

Freshman Cal Peterson, a Buffalo Sabres’ draft choice, has been the main goalie for the Irish and has started the last seven games. He’s 10-13-3 with a 92.3 save percentage and a 2.39 goals against average. He made 14 saves to shutout the Minutemen in December.

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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