AMHERST, Mass. — Despite a valiant effort, Massachusetts ran out of time in trying to overcome stretches of woeful team defense, falling to Providence, 5-4, at the Mullins Center Saturday night. For the Friars, the win gave them a sweep of the weekend after they knocked off Maine at Schneider Arena Friday night.
A four-point weekend helped PC overcome a three-game losing streak that ended January and began February, moving ahead of New Hampshire into sixth place in Hockey East. Five different PC players scored in the win, including Tim Schaller who has goals in three of four games since returning from six games sidelined with mononucleosis. Senior goaltender Alex Beaudry made 15 third period saves, with UMass pressing heavily after cutting the Friar lead to at 14 minutes, 51 seconds of the third period.
Sitting in sixth in the Hockey East standings, PC leads UNH by a point, with one game in hand on the Wildcats. UNH tied at Merrimack on Saturday night. UMass, meanwhile, remains deadlocked with Northeastern in eighth place in Hockey East. The Huskies own the tiebreaker over the Minutemen with seven conference wins to UMass’ six at the moment. The clubs enter the final three weeks of the regular season in a dead heat for the last playoff spot.
What I Saw
- Three of the four goals UMass scored were highlight reel goals. Mike Pereira’s marker to bring UMass within one, his third of the game, was the type of scrappy goal teams need to win games. Overall, however, the Minutemen failed to create chances on second and third opportunities with a lack of grit around the net. There were more than enough opportunities to bang rebounds past Beaudry late in the game, but PC won battles to loose pucks at the goalmouth throughout the game. At the other end, the Friars won the same battles in front of the UMass goal. The Friars can score the pretty ones, but they’ll take the ugly goals just as well. After all, those goals are among the many reasons they left Amherst with two points.
- Mike Pereira kept UMass in this game with demonstrations of his budding skill. Two of the goals he scored on the way to his second hat trick of the season came on breakaways with the Minutemen trailing by two. The sophomore is among the best young players in the conference and will likely be one of the better goal scorers in UMass’ short history when his career in Amherst ends. On the year, he has 15 goals, which ties him with UMass Lowell’s Derek Arnold for the most by a Hockey East sophomore. Ultimately, it wasn’t enough for the Minutemen to pick up a victory. Still, the sophomore has been able to succeed late in the season after scoring just twice in the final 12 games of the regular season last year.
- UMass coach Don Cahoon said after the game that his club plays extremely well in desperate situations. Friday night, they needed two points badly and earned a hard-fought win over BU. With the circumstances only slightly less dire Saturday night, they spotted PC two goals early after sleepwalking through most of the first period. Beginning the second period well, the Minutemen then gave up two more goals to the Friars in a 28-second span in the second period. In four of the last five seasons, wins have been in short supply for UMass. Last year, Cahoon regularly dressed more than 10 freshman and didn’t expect to compete much in Hockey East. However, in 2007-08, 2008-09 and 2009-10, the Minutemen saw similarly inconsistent efforts from its club within games. Some periods they look like a competitive, smart team, other periods, they look overmatched and disinterested. The only constant in this half decade of mediocrity has been Cahoon, who still can’t find the right string to pull for the Minutemen. However, this is still a youthful team, counting just four upperclassmen among his regular skaters — though junior Rocco Carzo has missed the last five games with injury. As the group of sophomores, led by Pereira, center Branden Gracel and winger Conor Sheary, matures, UMass may have enough to be the team Cahoon expects them to be.
What I Thought
- UMass is going to look at the T.J. Syner shot that rolled across the goal line in the final minute and Beaudry’s brilliant save on Conor Sheary as the plays that lost the game for them. But the Minutemen lost this game in the first five minutes, when they allowed a pair of goals to the Friars. David Brown scored on a wrist shot from the slot after a dreadful turnover from Conor Allen, and Schaller stuffed a puck past Kevin Boyle, who failed to corral the first attempt. The Minutemen fought back into the game repeatedly, but those first five minutes forced them to play from behind the entire night — this really isn’t a good look for UMass. The Minutemen are 3-8-1 on the year when they trail after the first period. Saturday night and last Friday against Northeastern — both games UMass controlled for extended stretches — the Minutemen forced themselves to overcome early two-goal deficits borne less for their opponents’ strength than UMass’ lack of execution.
- While UMass lost this game in the first five minutes, PC won it in the first 10 minutes of the second period. Leading 2-1 after the first, the Friars watched UMass dominate the first half of the middle frame. The Minutemen outshot PC, 6-0, in this stretch and drew two penalties with their speed and aggression. However, Beaudry kept the Friars in the lead, despite lengthy possessions for the Minutemen. PC coach Nate Leaman took a timeout at 7:18 of the period to halt UMass’ momentum. While PC sent UMass to the power play shortly after the stoppage, the Friars, mostly Beaudry, killed the man advantage. Guiding his club through this rough patch to put PC in good position for the remainder of the game. An unnecessary slashing penalty on Kevin Czepiel killed UMass’ momentum entirely, and the Friars stretched their lead to 3-1 with Daniel New’s goal on the man advantage.
- Despite the struggles early, the UMass penalty kill had two chances to give its club a boost and failed both times. With the score, 2-1, New converted to stretch the lead to 3-1. Later, after a stretch of dominance from UMass sophomore Mike Pereira, the Minutemen cut PC’s lead to 4-3, another poor stick foul — this time a Troy Power high-sticking minor — sent PC back to the power play, where Shane Luke converted, extending the lead to 5-3. UMass moved back within one with Patrick Kiley’s goal at 14:09. Still, UMass’ penalty kill, which excelled against BU Friday night, returned to its status as the this club’s ultimate weakness. On the year, UMass’ penalty kill stands at 74.3 percent, which would be the worst in the league if Vermont weren’t even more horrid down a man.
What They Said
“We played (UMass) three times this year and every game has been like this. They’re a team that can generate a lot of offense, particularly on their own rink. They haven’t lost many on their rink all year. We knew it was going to be a challenge (Saturday night). All three of our games have been this way. We won, 6-4. We tied, 4-4, and we won, 5-4. All three of our games have been up-and-down games. We’re fortunate to be on top.” — PC coach Nate Leaman
The Friars handed UMass its third consecutive loss at Mullins Center after the Minutemen went 7-0-3 in their first 10 at home this season. In each of the three games between UMass and PC, the teams have traded goals and momentum without either club able to take control. However, PC has not lost any of these games, and there’s a pretty clear reason for this. The Friars have demonstrated a willingness to win ugly in their first season under Leaman. Their forwards grind for goals, and their defensemen protect their own goal with unwavering tenacity. The Minutemen will lose that battle every time, whether due to a lack of strength or genuine unwillingness to compete to that level.
What They Didn’t Say
Leaman discussed his first year in Hockey East, and the confidence he has in his club moving forward. PC hasn’t been perfect, but they’ve found ways to win against some tough opponents by taking advantage of mistakes and willing themselves through certain games. Leaman did not, however, express anything resembling satisfaction with his club’s performance. They allowed seven goals in the weekend — a number he believed to be too high given the play of Beaudry each night. For a club like Providence, now near certain for their first Hockey East Tournament appearance since the 2007-08 season, a coach that expects them to improve every night is exactly what it needs to avoid regression.
What Else You Should Know
- UMass travels to Orono next weekend for a pair of games with the Black Bears. The clubs tied, 2-2, earlier this season in Amherst. They also met in a non-conference game as part of the Florida College Hockey Classic. Maine took that decision, 5-2, to earn the tournament’s championship.
- Providence is on the road again next weekend for a pair against Northeastern. The Friars fell to the Huskies, 5-2, on Nov. 18 in their first meeting of the season.
- Ineligible for the first half of the season, freshman Shane Luke has scored four goals and assisted on three others in the first 11 games of his collegiate career. The versatile forward seen time at both center and wing for PC, adding a layer of depth to their lineup.
- UMass has now lost three in a row at home after beginning the season 7-0-3 at the Mullins Center.