AMHERST, Mass. — Massachusetts entered the weekend reeling after blowing a 2-0 third-period lead in a loss to Maine last Saturday.
It was UMass’ fourth loss of the season, but by far, it’s most disappointing.
On Friday, the Minutemen made sure American International College had no chance of repeating what the Black Bears did to them six days earlier with a loud message in the first period.
UMass scored four goals in the opening frame, including one just 57 seconds into the game, to roll to a 7-1 win over the Yellow Jackets in front of a crowd of 3,102 at Mullins Center.
Five different players had multi-point games for the Minutemen. Zach LaRue and Frank Vatrano each scored two goals, while Steven Iacobellis finished with three points on a goal and two assists. It was UMass’ highest single-game goal total since 2011.
“Anyone whose covered the program in the two-plus years that I’ve been here could tell you I’m a firm believer that the first team to three is going to have the best opportunity to win,” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “I thought tonight particularly, getting from one to two and two to three is what we were excited about.”
Freshman goaltender Henry Dill was effective in goal in a relatively easy night, making 13 saves and shutting out AIC for the first 49:53 of the game.
Yellow Jackets’ goaltender Alex Murray, on the other hand, had a much tougher night. He made just 17 saves on 22 shots before being pulled in favor of Hunter Leisner midway through the third. He had little help in front of him as he faced four penalty-killing situations and numerous odd-man rushes throughout.
The win was especially gratifying for the Minutemen’s returning players, who were upset by AIC 3-2 at home last season despite a 59-18 shot advantage.
“You try not to look back on stuff like that, but at the same time, you kind of have a bitter taste in your mouth from last year,” LaRue said. “[Micheletto] wanted to make it more of a rivalry, get a fire going underneath us. I thought we prepared well. You can’t take anyone lightly no matter what team it is. I think we took it to them tonight so it was good to see.”
The Minutemen needed just 57 seconds to jump on the Yellow Jackets. Marc Hetnik forced a turnover in the neutral zone and found Troy Power to lead the odd-man rush. Power pushed the puck down the right wing and fed Dennis Kravchenko, who tapped a one-timer past Murray to give UMass a 1-0 lead.
Kravchenko has scored four goals in the last three games and the freshman, who also had an assist, was active throughout the night, using his speed to create chances and put teammates in position to score.
“Guys around me are doing the little things; I’m not doing anything,” he said. “Troy set up a great pass for me, made it simple for me to put it in the net.”
From there, UMass’ sophomore trio of Vatrano, Iacobellis and Ray Pigozzi took over in their first game as a unit.
Iacobellis doubled the Minutemen’s advantage at 6:10 with his third goal of the season off a nice pass from Pigozzi in front. Vatrano led the rush down the left wing before giving it up to Pigozzi, who carried the puck to the goal line before finding Iacobellis cutting in front for the goal.
The trio struck again six minutes later when Vatrano scored off a slick backhand pass from Iacobellis to put UMass up 3-0.
“All three of us play a different style of game,” Vatrano said. “Ray’s a playmaker, works really hard. [Iacobellis] goes to the corners and makes great plays. So I think the there’s a really good balance to that line. I think we’ll do pretty well moving forward.”
Steven Guzzo fed LaRue for a one-timer on an easy 2-on-1 opportunity to put the Minutemen up 4-0 after the first period.
Horton extended UMass’ lead to five 11:04 into the second with his third goal of the season. The freshman defenseman raced the puck into the offensive zone and weaved his way past a pair of defenders to get in front. He tried to pass but his attempt deflected off the stick of Dominic Racobaldo and back to Horton, who gathered the puck again and ripped it into the back of the net.
Austin Orszulak ended Dill’s shutout bid with a power-play goal on a shot from the high slot 9:53 into the third period that cut the Minutemen’s advantage to 5-1.
LaRue and Vatrano each scored late goals in the third to add to the rout.
AIC head coach Gary Wright did not attend the postgame press conference.