A Lesson in Finishing
Last Week's Collapse Left Micheletto, UMass Searching
by Michael King/CHN Writer
AMHERST, Mass. It appeared to be the first signature win in the head coaching career of John Micheletto. However, those familiar with college hockey understand that a 3-0 lead is far from safe when the opponent is Boston College.
The defending national champions scored four goals against UMass in the third period, then completed the come-back with a goal midway through overtime.
"I think we got too comfortable out there. It's obviously unacceptable; there are no excuses," Minuteman co-captain Rocco Carzo said.
The 5-4 loss Friday night at the Mullins Center marked the inability of UMass to play successfully with the lead. As the teams skated around their respective ends prior to puck-drop in the third, it appeared to many that the Minutemen would complete the victory with relative comfort.
It was reminiscent of UMass' 4-0 victory last year on the same ice sheet when the Eagles looked like the nation's best team.
Despite the same goaltender in net and largely the same roster, the result was entirely different.
With an opponent that has dominated Hockey East for much of the past decade at the other end of the ice, the mental aspect was too much for the Minutemen to overcome on this occasion.
Yet, it wasn't a pure collapse. The Minutemen displayed mettle by fighting back after most of their lead dissolved.
After the Eagles scored twice in first nine minutes of the third, UMass began to press. It was evident from their play at this point in the game that the Minutemen desperately wanted to seal the desired result in front of 7,678 witnesses.
And 90 seconds later, that effort was awarded with a goal, extending the lead to 4-2.
Then, things went immediately south for the Minutemen. That goal was turning point in the game.
Even though signs of relief were not obviously evident from the players' facial expressions and body language, their play suggested otherwise. The Minutemen reverted to the tentative and unconfident play that allowed BC to score twice thus far in the frame and largely control the puck.
"A lot's of guys [on the bench] said now we have it in the bag," Carzo said about his teammates' reaction after the goal. "Coach's message was to keep on going and don't get complacent with the game. But we obviously didn't do that."
Micheletto acknowledged this failed communication and instantly recognized its affect on his team's decision making.
"We got flat footed and that's not how we want to play," he said. "The more time and space we gave them, the more dangerous they became. We made it easier for them when changed our style of play — our personality — in the third period."
In fairness to the Minutemen, the team was charged with defending this lead without its top two-way defender, Joel Hanley. The junior was dismissed from the game within the first two minutes, assessed a game misconduct for hitting from behind. The decision forced UMass to reshuffle its defensive pairings.
Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of the performance is its consistency with prior seasons. Last year, the Minutemen suffered similar collapses twice against Boston University. Other examples can be drawn from earlier seasons and came to define the tenure of Don "Toot" Cahoon, who left the program on June after 12 seasons as head coach.
"It happened way too many times to us last year," Carzo said. "It got to a point where we knew it was coming — and I think it’s a mental thing at that point."
Many attributed the inability to consistently protect leads against quality opponents to coaching. But with Micheletto replacing Cahoon, it's possible that these problems run deeper. Only the second game into the Michletto era at UMass, it's too soon to pass judgement.
The hope now is that the developing relationship between the new coach and players can cure this behavior. Carzo believes consistent success on the ice can help limit the manifestation of these lingering bad habits.
"I don’t think this is a (thing that can be solved in practice)," he said. "We just have to have confidence in ourselves."
"We obviously have a lot of stuff to work on now — we can't do this going forward," he added. "We're going to have a lot of games where its 3-2, or 3-1, and we'll have to close them out."
But as with any good captain, Carzo solely communicated confidence about his team going forward. He is certain his teammates will overcome this mental obstacle and start stringing together victories.
"It's going to come — I'm not worried about that. But we have a tough schedule," he said, "so we have to figure it out now, there's no time to waste."