The Takeaway: Strong effort from UMass negated in OT loss

Posted by: Michael King

BOSTON — In another close battle at Matthews Arena, Northeastern defeated Massachusetts, 4-3, in overtime. With the victory, the Huskies dealt a devastating blow to UMass and its place in the Hockey East standings.

The Minutemen played well during the second and third periods, but allowed a game-winning goal resulting from a defensive breakdown behind the net. The goal undid several periods of hard work for the Minutemen and left the team without any tangible benefit for the third-consecutive game.

The win also earned Northeastern a split of the season series at 1-1-1. Both teams fought to a 2-2 tie in the first game of the season for each on October 7 in Boston.

What I Saw

Entering the game, many expected the contest to have a playoff-like intensity with both teams seemingly vying against each other for one of the scarce places in the Hockey East playoffs. Both teams responded favorably, skating with significant effort and working hard in front of the net to create scoring chances.

One of the turning points in the game was a five-minute major penalty given to NU forward Garrett Vermeersch at the end of the second period for elbowing. With the first five minutes of the third period on the man-advantage, UMass failed to score or generate multiple quality scoring chances. However, the lack of a power-play did not demoralize the Minutemen as the team played well for the rest of the period. UMass did well to take the game to overtime without scoring during that extended power play. However, it was not enough to put the team in a position to win the game.

What I Thought

With defenseman Conor Allen suspended for violating team rules, junior Darren Rowe dressed in his place. That created the following pairings: Rowe and Joel Hanley, Oleg Yevenko and Michael Marcou, and Colin Shea and Adam Phillips. For UMass, there’s not one pair that you could consistently rely on to shut-down an opposing team’s top line.

Though Marcou has been largely criticized for his play this season and last — fairly or not — much is expected of senior defensemen in Hockey East. Yevenko and Phillips are still too raw defensively and lack the skating ability to cover for many of the mistakes of their teammates. The Hanley-Allen pairing gives the Minutemen a set of defensemen who typically defend well, while also offering an offensive dimension and above-average skating ability.

Certainly UMass coach Don Cahoon was eager to find playing time for Boyle, who started the first three games of the season. Prior to Friday night, Boyle had not played since a 4-4 tie against Providence in the team’s first game in the second-half of the schedule. Sophomore Jeff Teglia started the next game against Vermont at Fenway Park, and fellow-freshman Steve Mastalerz shut-out Boston College the next weekend. That performance earned Mastalerz the starts in the next two games. But all-around poor play from the entire team last weekend evidently inspired to coach to reconfigure his goaltending rotation.

It’s understandable why Cahoon wanted to get the freshman some playing time. I’m sure the fact that Boyle had only gave-up two goals during his first start at Matthews this season factored into the decision. However, it was a lot to ask for the freshman to play well immediately since he hadn’t seen the ice for nearly a month. Boyle struggled during the first 10 minutes of play, surrendering two goals. The play of his team didn’t help matters, as Northeastern dominated the opening moments of the game. But the freshman settled down nicely and played well for the remainder of the game, despite getting the loss.

The decision may prove to pay dividends for the team further down the road, but at some point this season UMass needs to settle on a more predictable rotation in order to keep each goalie sharp going forward.

What They Said

“What really sickens me — because it was a hard-fought game that could have gone either way — was the way the game ended,” Cahoon said. “We play our butts off for the second and third period to give ourselves a chance to win the game and we then make a lazy defensive read and gave up a soft goal.”

“The third and fourth goals were both soft goals,” Cahoon said. “Boyle made some good saves in the first and second periods. He’s a freshman and he’s given us some good play.”

What Else You Should Know

Cahoon indicated that Allen might play tomorrow night against Merrimack, as he will make a decision in the context of the player’s violation of team rules this week.

UMass forward Conor Sheary left the game early in the third period with an apparent lower-body injury. But the sophomore returned about five minutes later and completed his regular shifts.

Rowe played on the first defensive pairing with Joel Hanley in place of the suspended Allen. Friday was Rowe’s third game of the season. He dressed as a forward last week against UMass-Lowell, replacing the injured Rocco Carzo.

UMass faces Merrimack for the first time this on Saturday at the Mullins Center. The scheduling quirk is fortunate for the Minutemen, given Merrimack’s 9-0-1 start to the season that saw the team reach No. 1 in the nation. The Warriors’ play has since cooled from their torrid beginning, but they remain in full contention for home-ice in the Hockey East playoffs.

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