UMass' Lesson Learned
Minutemen Look to Grow from Win at Conte
by Nick Canelas/CHN Reporter
It appeared as if it was going to be the same old story for Massachusetts.
The Minutemen took a lead into the third period against Boston College for the third time this season Friday night at Conte Forum. And for the third time, they allowed the Eagles to tie the game.
No matter how much UMass outplayed BC, no matter how much it looked like the Minutemen were the better team, the outcome seemed inevitable: another Eagles comeback win at the hands of UMass. Earlier this season, UMass held third-period leads of 3-0 and 2-1 in games with the Eagles, before BC rallies led to wins.
Ten minutes after Steven Whitney's game-tying tally in the third period, fortunes changed. Junior forward Michael Pereira found himself on a breakaway after a Branden Gracel, and fired a shot that deflected off the pad of BC goaltender Parker Milner and back onto Pereira's stick. The junior gathered the rebound and beat Milner to give the Minutemen a 3-2 advantage 13:03 into the third period.
And just like that, the game swung in the favor of UMass. The Minutemen scored two more goals in the next three and a half minutes of play and found themselves 5-2 winners. It was Pereira's effort that made sure things were different this time around.
"We had a conversation between the second and third (periods)," Pereira said. "You know, leave all doubts in here ... we've been the better team all night, so don't change what you're doing. Just play with a little heart, and a little guts, and we came out with a gutty performance here."
Playing at Conte Forum hasn't been a good experience for UMass in the last four years. Since 2007, the Minutemen have lost in all 11 of their trips there, including three straight two-game sweeps in the Hockey East quarterfinals, meaning Friday may have been the senior class' last opportunity to get a win in a venue that has been nothing short of nightmarish for them.
"I didn't know about it until after the game," UMass coach John Micheletto said. "But I noticed it from them, it's obviously some relief, some excitement that they were able to do that. It's a bit of a monkey off their back.
"I'm happy for them that it's something they can check off the list."
While he's grateful to finally get a win in Chestnut Hill, senior captain Kevin Czepiel certainly hopes this is the last time he has to play there.
"It's hard not to think about all the times we've been up here and lost," Czepiel said. "But I'm hoping it's my last time coming here, definitely happy to go out with a win."
UMass responded differently this time around, in a way that was different than any other win this team had in recent memory. It has been typical of this team, especially this season, to allow these types of games to slip out of their grasp. This time, however, they found a way to finish the job.
The game certainly had significance historically for UMass, but there may be greater incentive down the road. Not only do the Minutemen further decrease their chances of having to go back to Conte in the Hockey East tournament by improving their standing with the two points, they also find themselves finally believing they can hold a lead against one of the top teams in the country.
"It's a matter of learning lessons," Micheletto said. "You collect valuable lessons along the way. Sometimes those are positive lessons that you learn from, sometimes there's negative lessons. Losing a third period lead here a couple of times in the early part of the season is something that we didn't want to taste anymore.
"We've talked about the mental toughness part of not letting games get away from you when you're in control and playing better. So it's just reminding our guys of what it takes to be a champion. Ultimately that's what we're striving for."
UMass is hesitant to call this effort a season-changer, however. Micheletto knows the result means nothing if his team doesn't respond with a strong showing in Vermont next weekend. Czepiel, on the other hand, believes the turning-point began on New Year's Eve when the Minutemen topped Dartmouth for the Ledyard National Bank Classic championship, despite following that up with a pair of losses to Providence.
Looking at UMass' track record over the past half decade, inconsistency has appeared to be the only common theme. The last few weeks have been prime examples of that. It may take seeing how the Minutemen can respond in the next few weeks to determine what this win really means for them.
In the mean time, Micheletto does believe the Minutemen are learning from their struggles earlier in the year, and are progressing toward becoming a team that can play well and maintain focus throughout a game.
"I think we've got a good leadership group, we got guys who believe in themselves as well as what we're trying to do," he said. "I don't think that there's a lot of pity that can survive in our culture right now."