Mistakes Haunt UMass
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
ROCHESTER, N.Y. Throughout their 2006-2007 season, the Massachusetts Minutemen learned to deal with a lack of consistent offensive production. The superb play of sophomore goaltender Jon Quick paired with being Hockey East's least penalized team was usually enough to offset the paltry offensive numbers.
The Minutemen rode this formula to the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament on Saturday, dropping a 3-1 decision to Maine.
In their fifth contest with the Black Bears this month, the Minutemen received another great performance from Quick — 26 saves — but found themselves in the penalty box eight times, putting them at the mercy of one of the nation's top power plays; the Black Bears convert man advantages into goals 25 percent of the time.
Maine lived up to its billing, converting on two of the eight power plays yielded to them by the Minutemen.
The penalty minutes alone didn't kill the Minutemen. The products of spending so much time sliding back and forth in their own zone trying to prevent quality shots from the likes of Michel Leveille and Teddy Purcell would prove their undoing.
In the third period alone, the Minutemen committed three penalties in less than four minutes. At the 4:57 mark, junior Matt Burto went off for hooking and just 45 second later, junior Mike Kostka joined Burto in the box for a slashing minor.
Maine converted the two-man advantage when Matt Duffy took a shot from the point that found its way through traffic and Quick to extend the Black Bear lead to two and effectively put UMass away.
"The third goal really took the wind out of our sails," UMass coach Don Cahoon said. "That third goal was on the power play and it really sapped the energy from us."
At a point in the game where they should've been putting together rushes in hopes of creating scoring chances, the Minutemen had to spend time in their own zone watching Maine string pass after pass together as time continued to melt away.
UMass' best offensive players also happen to be some of their best penalty killers. Sophomore Cory Quirk, UMass' first line center, plays on the top penalty killing unit as does second line winger P.J. Fenton.
"I had to use some of my best scorers over and over again killing penalties," Cahoon said. "So you're trying to get some offense from guys that have killed penalties pretty well. And they've been on the ice far too much so it's kind of a double edged sword."
The avalanche of penalty calls made it nearly impossible for the Minutemen build any momentum. Even after senior Matt Anderson's wrister from the high slot cut the Maine lead to one, the Minutemen found a way to put themselves at a disadvantage.
In the final minute of the second period, UMass freshman Will Ortiz skated into the Maine zone looking to even the 2-1 score but officials suddenly whistled the play dead. The Minutemen got careless while performing one of the most basic tasks in all of college hockey - a line change. A UMass player left the bench too early, leaving the Minutemen a man down for the remainder of the second period and the first 1:07 of the third.
So rather than starting the decisive third period on the offensive, UMass again found themselves sitting in the box formation watching Michel Leveille and Mike Lundin slide the puck back and forth.
"It was really hard to keep our composure and 'stay up' as I say," Anderson said. "Over that past three weeks, I feel like we've had our best jump in the third period. Before the third period, I thought we had some momentum. But it became pretty challenging after that."