AMHERST, Mass. — In a series that will contribute significantly to the determination of the final Hockey East playoff spot, Maine defeated Massachusetts, 2-0, at the Mullins Center Friday night. Junior goaltender Martin Ouellette offered an excellent performance in net for the Black Bears, including saves on multiple above-average UMass scoring chances throughout the game. This was the goalie’s second career shut-out, the result of 30 saves.
The teams will skate again on the same ice tomorrow night. With the victory, Maine moves into eighth place while the Minutemen fall to ninth. Meanwhile, Northeastern lost to Providence, 6-2, staying in the tenth position.
What I Saw
Ouellette made one of the season’s best saves near the beginning of the second period, robbing K.J. Tiefenwerth from very close range. The save maintained a scoreless game. For the next few minutes, the teams traded quality scoring chances through rapid end-to-end action. Several pucks sailed through each crease, as the pair of goaltenders supported their struggling defensemen.
More significantly, the save preserved the complexion of the game in Maine’s favor. The Black Bears finally started the scoring near the end of the second frame as the team took advantage of a power play opportunity. Freshman defenseman Ben Hutton launched a shot past a screened Boyle. Four minutes later, Maine doubled its lead as senior Mark Anthoine sent a perfectly-placed snap shot into the top-right corner above goalie Kevin Boyle’s glove side. The goal prompted UMass coach John Micheletto to replace Boyle with Steve Mastalerz.
In the third, it appeared early that the Minutemen were poised to continue developing scoring chances in the period. However, not did UMass fail to find the score sheet, the team found significantly less success putting pucks on net.
What I Thought
The Maine power play, which has struggled through much of the season, continues to impress in recent games. Statistically, the Black Bears have the league’s worst power play, operating at a success rate of 11 percent entering Friday’s game. That figure was boosted considerably by the extra-man unit’s performance last weekend against Boston University, which scored three times in Friday’s match. Last season, Maine sported one of the league’s best power plays with a highly-skilled group of Diamond, Brian Flynn, Spencer Abbott, and Will O’Neill efficiently operating the first unit. After losing three of those four players to graduation, the Black Bears have struggled to consistently generate quality chances with the extra-man. If Maine hopes to continue its upward trend and reach eighth place, it’s likely that the power play will be a primary factor in that determinant. But with several talented players, including leading scorer Joey Diamond out against the Minutemen, Maine is persevering through the situation on special teams.
The Minutemen played like a team that was experiencing a dip in recent form on the ice. UMass struggled in most facets of the game, specifically on defense. Failure to maintain a strong defensive posture led to various Maine scoring chances. The team could not consistently complete basic, short passes or successfully forecheck after entering the zone. These are all characteristics of a slumping team. Once Micheletto went to the bench for Mastalerz, it was clear that the coach wanted to send a message to his team, not knowing how else to send the communication. Boyle wasn’t having a terrible performance, though one could argue that he should have made a better play on Hutton’s shot. The Minutemen desperately need to find the level of quality execution that produced relatively recently recent wins over Boston College and BU, or the school will be sitting out the Hockey East playoffs.
What They Said
Coach Tim Whitehead “Marty stepped up and inspired the guys, and obviously it could have gone a much different way if not for Marty. Getting the first goal helped to take the pressure off Marty even after he made that save.”
Ouellette on his save against Tiefenwerth in the second: “It’s probably a save you make one out of 20 times. It was a 3-on-2 and they passed it from the middle and I thought he was going to shoot, but then he passed it and I dropped to the butter-fly. I made the save but there was probably a little luck involved.”
Michelletto on his approach to motivating his team: “Our process wasn’t good enough, so frustration is probably a wasted energy at this point. We have a style of play that will be successful if you stick to it, and we didn’t do that tonight. The buttons [the coaches have pressed with the players] so far haven’t worked. So we’ll continue to do that until we find away with a considerable amount of the season still left.”
What Else You Should Know
There is a reasonable probability that all three teams near the bottom of the standings — UMass, Maine, and Northeastern could finish with the same number of points. The results of season series are the first tie-breaker in Hockey East. Therefore, securing the tie-breaker is nearly as valuable earning the four points available from the pair of games for teams. Northeastern won the season series against UMass with a 5-4 overtime win in Amherst last Tuesday. Maine and Northeastern square off for a pair of games in Orono net weekend, again, with the season series at stake. If one of the three teams dominates their four games over these two weekends, then it will be likely enough to obtain the final play-off place.