AMHERST, Mass. ― In a battle between two teams trying to secure places in the Hockey East playoffs, Massachusetts defeated Vermont at the Mullins Center, 4-3, behind senior captain Danny Hobbs’ first-career hat-trick.
Sophomore defenseman Conor Allen scored the game-winning goal near the end of the third period, finishing a rebound opportunity that UVM goalie Rob Madore failed to properly secure.
UMass survived poor overall play in the second period, while scoring three goals in the third. Freshman goalie Steve Mastalerz started for UMass and played well in his follow-up performance to shutting out Boston College last weekend.
Hobbs’ hat trick was the second for the Minutemen this season. Allen scored three goals against Holy Cross in November.
What I Saw
The Minuteman defense looked flat at times, allowing Vermont forwards to take space into the UMass zone and get the puck on net. The team fought through during nearly the entire second period, but managed to end the frame only down one goal. That flat period set the stage for the third where UMass retook control of the game.
“Vermont won the battles for loose pucks and accumulated a lot of chances. We were lucky just to be done by one goal after the second period,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “It was a remarkable turnaround in the third.”
Sophomore forward Michael Pereira played well for UMass creating multiple chances in the offensive zone. His strong skating ability allowed him to easily move past the Vermont defense. His line with Steven Guzzo and Hobbs was the best unit on the ice. Pereira’s skating ability complements well with his linemates’ skill and determination in front of the net.
The win also marked significant progress in the team’s development in terms of coming from behind and winning, especially after losing the lead late in a game.
“I don’t think we win that game in November, I don’t think we win that game last year,” Cahoon said. “It’s only one way to measure it, but it’s definitely a positive.”
UMass continued its strong play at home, remaining undefeated at the Mullins Center this season. Although the crowd was less of a factor (3,321) than in some of the team’s signature wins this season, it’s obvious that the Minutemen are very comfortable on home ice.
For the Catamounts, the team was ultimately undone by poor play in front of the net, as all four UMass goals were scored in grade-A. Vermont found itself struggling to cope with the speed of the Minutemen at times, which simultaneously left space open near the net.
“I thought the difference in the game was that we played tough everywhere, except in front of the net,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said. “We didn’t tie-up sticks or box out well enough. I was disappointing because I thought we played a very good hockey game everywhere else. We didn’t help (Madore) out tonight.”
“We need to get better at boxing out at the net front — and that’s my job to teach that,” he added.
What I thought
At times, the play of Madore kept the Catamounts in the game. The senior made several good saves on the five UMass power plays. Although Madore certainly hasn’t received the best play in front of him this season, the goalie’s inconsistency has harmed Vermont at times. But Friday night, Madore was not to blame for the first goals allowed, as his defense failed to clear the puck on Hobbs’ three goals.
However, on the game-winning goal, Madore left a rebound on the edge of the crease from a save off of Adam Phillips’ shot from the right half-wall. Ideally, Madore would have deflected the puck wide, or a defenseman would have ably cleared the puck from danger. But given the circumstances of the play’s odd-man rush, there were no Catamount defensemen near to make the play.
“I thought Rob played well. The last goal was unfortunate — I think Rob thought he had it,” Sneddon said.
The loss drops Vermont’s record to 5-17-1 and 2-13-1 in Hockey East. Having seen the team play several times this season, it’s fair to reason that the team deserved better results in many of these games. Friday night was no exception. It’s unlikely that the Catamounts will make the playoffs, but momentum going forward to next year would certainly aid the development of this young team.
What they said
“I’ve been waiting four years for this,” Hobbs said, after scoring his first career hat-trick. “It was definitely a gutsy win on our part. I think we did a good job staying composed.
“I think a lot of guys wouldn’t be able to stand in there in traffic and get shots off; it’s his strength,” Cahoon said. “He can deliver a puck to the net in traffic. These are the types of goals he’s going to score.”
“We’re really confident when [Mastalerz] is in the net. It’s definitely nice to have someone back there whom you can trust,” Hobbs said after the game. His coach added, “I think we have three goalies who can win a game for us on any given night. Steve found a way to win a game tonight.”
What else you should know
With another assist Friday night, Mastalerz now has more points than seven skaters on the UMass roster. He became the first goalie to register a point since Jon Quick in 2006-07 in a 4-0 win over Boston College last weekend.
The Minutemen are off until next Friday when they kick-off a pivotal home-and-home series against UMass Lowell. UMass remains in seventh place, but New Hampshire could pass the Minutemen in the standings with a win against Merrimack Saturday night.
Vermont returns home to Burlington in an equally pivotal series in the standings to face Northeastern in a pair of games. If the Catamounts hope to make the HEA playoffs, then the Huskies will be one of the teams Vermont needs to pass in the standings.