Third-period comeback a solid building block for Massachusetts

Senior Shane Walsh and Massachusetts got a chance to establish leadership early (photo: Melissa Wade).

It’s never easy as a college hockey coach to begin the season by hopping on a plane to fly about two-thirds of the way across the country. You wouldn’t blame the team, no matter its level of skill and hopes of success, regardless of the opponent, to be happy to come away from a two-game series with a split.

Massachusetts and coach John Micheletto were in that exact situation last Saturday night after two periods. A night after winning a back-and-forth game at Colorado College 6-3, the Minutemen were down 3-0 through two periods.

Pack it in, be thankful for a single win and head home, right?

“A lot of young people may have said let’s get out of here and take the split,” said Micheletto.

Instead, his club, picked by many to finish at or near the bottom of Hockey East, rallied. Never showing quit, UMass scored on the first shift of the third and never looked back, scoring four times en route to a 4-3 win and a weekend sweep at Colorado College to begin the 2015-16 campaign.

“The wins certainly made that travel home on Sunday a lot better,” joked Micheletto.

It also allowed his underdog team to begin to form an identity early. A team that features a number of underclassmen found leadership in its upper class, something that could prove invaluable as the season rolls along.

“It was a great opportunity for [captain] Steven Iacobellis, [and seniors] Ben Gallacher and Shane Walsh to come out and establish a new pattern for our program,” Micheletto said. “We’re going to have to [come back] on occasion. When it does happen, this is what we’re going to be. We’re going to stay true to how we have to play.”

While the upperclass leadership showed its colors, performances from two freshmen may stand out the most from the road trip.

Forward Austin Plevy notched a hat trick and added an assist on Friday before scoring the game-winning goal with 3:07 remaining in regulation on Saturday.

“Every freshman wants to come in and have immediate impact but even Austin couldn’t have come in and expected to have a line of four [goals] and one [assist], with two game-winners and a hat trick,” said Micheletto. “It’s part of the pedigree he’s shown. He’s got a real good demeanor and approach to the game. He’s pretty humble. I’ve been really impressed with Austin in the early going.”

On Saturday, rookie netminder Nic Renyard earned his first start and finished the game with 45 saves, including 20 in the final period when allowing even a single goal would have derailed the UMass comeback.

“Nic made some big saves in the third period,” Micheletto said. “One that was a post-to-post blocker save that he made after [Colorado College] pulled the goaltender. The fact that he could track it through traffic and actually make the save as opposed to it hitting him was pretty impressive.

“It’s great to come out of your first college game and not give up a soft one and make a couple of huge saves down the stretch.”

The victories are a good jump start to the UMass season but Micheletto understands it is just that — a start. His club will host two single-game weekends before traveling to New Jersey for an in-season tournament over Halloween weekend.

And while the team may like to carry the momentum from Colorado back onto the ice as soon and often as possible, playing one game on each of the next two weekends — against Sacred Heart and then New Hampshire — might be a good thing.

“You can really invest in the one game and one game only while you get your legs back underneath you,” said Micheletto. “You can focus on one opponent and make adjustments over the course of a week as opposed to one night to another.”

Goals, goals and more goals

New Hampshire’s Tyler Kelleher had a four-point night against American International (photo: Melissa Wade).

The opening weekend of play produced a collective 9-3-3 record for Hockey East teams. Add to that an average of 4.5 goals per game scored for Hockey East clubs and there was plenty of offense to go around.

Both New Hampshire and Providence exploded for seven goals in a single game, while UMass netted six in its first game of the weekend and Boston College and UConn each produced five spots.

Not surprisingly, there were some impressive individual offensive performances. UNH’s Tyler Kelleher and Andrew Poturalski each had four-point games against American International. That was matched by Plevy for UMass on Friday night.

Plevy was one of two Hockey East players to net a hat trick on the weekend, and both came from the sticks of freshmen. Connecticut’s Max Letunov had the other, also on the road against Alabama-Huntsville.

On the converse side of all of the goal scoring were UMass-Lowell, Vermont and Northeastern. The River Hawks and Catamounts both walked away from their single-game weekends with 3-0 shutout victories, Lowell’s coming over Rensselaer at home (a win that became more impressive on Sunday when RPI beat No. 1 Boston College) and Vermont’s coming at No. 9 Minnesota in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game.

Northeastern’s victory, a 2-1 win at home against No. 20 Colgate, was one of only two one-goal wins on the weekend for Hockey East teams. (Maine, for the record, allowed just a single goal to North Dakota but mustered just a tie in the Ice Breaker Tournament in Portland, Maine.)

And while it is nice to look at the impressive offensive and defensive performances by Hockey East teams in week one, the most important statistic was the one that led this section: a 9-3-3 out-of-conference record. The .700 winning percentage is a great start in the all-important nonconference play. It is, of course, success outside of the conference schedule that leads to an increased number of NCAA bids come March.

The Devils in the details

College hockey’s newest team will make its first trip to Hockey East territory when Arizona State travels to Connecticut on Friday as part of a three-game-in-three-night tour of the Nutmeg State.

The Sun Devils face ECAC Hockey member Quinnipiac on Thursday and Sacred Heart of Atlantic Hockey on Saturday on their whirlwind tour of the U.S. that began last weekend with two games in Anchorage, Alaska.

Hockey East dots Arizona State’s schedule this season. UConn will travel to Tempe in early January and could face the Sun Devils later that week in Tempe when they participate in the Desert Hockey Classic. At the end of January, Arizona State will again make a three-day tour of New England when it faces UMass-Lowell on Jan. 29 and 30 before heading up the road to Merrimack on Jan. 31.

Tip of the cap

A salute to UMass-Lowell coach Norm Bazin, who, with his team’s win on Friday, reached the 100-win mark as the River Hawks head coach. Bazin, a 1994 graduate of Lowell, passed his own coach, Bruce Crowder, on the school’s all-time wins list and became the fastest of any River Hawks (or Chiefs, for that matter) coach to earn his 100th win behind the Lowell bench.

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