UMass can’t overcome slow start in loss at UConn

Staff Writer
Published: 3/8/2019 11:39:14 PM

HARTFORD, Conn. — For the final 25 minutes Friday night, UMass showed off exactly why it is the No. 2 team in the country.

The Minutemen were buzzing around the Connecticut offensive zone, creating chances by the dozens in and around the net. They made the fans at the XL Center sweat in their seats as they continued to pound the net with shots and force Tomas Vomacka to flop around his crease to stop the puck. UMass scored three times in that display, too, twice in the final 1:12 of the second period and then again just 45 seconds into the third period.

Yet the first 35 minutes were the realization of every UMass fan’s worst fear before the game. The Minutemen looked disinterested with nothing to play for and the Huskies capitalized for three goals before UMass returned to form. It was that poor first half of the game that was ultimately to blame for the Minutemen’s 4-3 loss to UConn.

“Absolutely uneven game from my team,” coach Greg Carvel said. “I could tell this morning they weren’t in the right frame of mind to play. … It’s very disconcerting for me as a coach on March 8 that we can’t be excited to play a game. We were once we got down and found a way to score our first goal, but UConn deserved to win.”

It was evident for most of the first half of the game that UMass (26-8-0, 18-6-0 Hockey East) wasn’t skating at the same level it normally does. UConn (12-20-2, 7-15-2) was skating past the Minutemen to chase down loose pucks and made it look as if the UMass players were leisurely gliding to the puck. It didn’t seem to matter too much with UMass earning most of the early chances, but that quickly flipped midway through the period.

Benjamin Freeman outworked the Minutemen’s defense in the crease to poke home a loose puck that had squirted through Matt Murray’s pad after he saved a shot from Brian Rigali. UMass then went short-handed and struggled to clear the zone, benefitting from a bouncing puck that ruined several good looks for UConn. It was the Minutemen’s own man advantage that eventually hurt them as Cale Makar’s pass around the boards drifted into center ice and Rigali picked it up and sniped one past Murray.

“It’s one of those classic games that we didn’t need to win, it made no difference in a lot of things,” Carvel said. “We didn’t come out to play in the first and you get down 2-0, it’s a tough scenario. When you don’t score the first, it’s tough to win; when you don’t score the first two, it’s really tough to win. But then we decided to play and we dominated the game for the last 30 minutes of the game.”

Another Makar miscue – this time a defensive zone turnover – led to Ruslan Iskhakov making it 3-0 UConn before the Minutemen turned up their game. The Huskies barely sniffed a quality scoring attempt after taking the commanding lead and were forced onto their heels for the remainder of the game.

UMass’ catalyst proved to be Bobby Trivigno, who also was the Minutemen’s brightest spot in the first half of the contest. The freshman forward drew a holding penalty behind the UConn net after an extended period of offensive zone time for the Minutemen. He then capitalized on the power play by finishing off a set play of tic-tac-toe passing that zipped the puck from Makar to Jacob Pritchard to Trivigno for the tap-in with 1:12 left in the second.

Mitchell Chaffee tipped home a Marc Del Gaizo slapshot from the blue line to beat the horn in the second and UMass clawed its way back to 3-2 after 40 minutes.

“We woke up a little bit and we started rolling,” Trivigno said. “As soon as we scored our first one, usually there’s a few to follow up. I was fortunate to start that, but it wasn’t enough in the end.”

It didn’t take long for the Minutemen to tie the game in the third. Chaffee barrelled in on goal from the corner and stuffed home the equalizer just 45 seconds into the period. But Freeman untied the game just 36 seconds later with a long wrist shot that flew past sophomore Brad Arvanitis, who entered the game in the third period for his first action of the season in a premeditated move by Carvel to give each of his three goalies one period between the pipes.

The Minutemen kept throwing shots toward Vomacka, but the Huskies blocked six of the 22 attempts and forced seven others wide. Trivigno had the best chance to tie the game, but couldn’t lift the puck off the ice enough to flip it over a sprawled-out Vomacka.

Instead, UConn earned a signature victory to close out its season and UMass will lick its wounds while preparing to host a quarterfinals series against New Hampshire next week.

“Our focus for our team was to play our game,” Trivigno said. “Play a really hard game going into the playoffs, but we weren’t that focused.”

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