I was on the phone last night with the pregame ceremonies streaming on UMassAthletics on mute when I noticed Steve Mastalerz being focused on by the camera. “That’s weird,” I thought. “Must’ve missed starting lineups. They must all be on the ice right now.” Then the game started, and with an overwhelming sense of dread, I (and everyone else watching at home and in the Bill) realized oh no, Toot’s starting our third-string goalie against BC. You know, the guy who got shelled in his first collegiate appearance by a dreadful UNH team. The guy whose last name neither his play-by-play announcer nor his own head coach seemingly can agree on a consistent way to pronounce.
Well, talk about “being like Mike.” Kid went out last night and proved everyone wrong.
The Minutemen blanked Boston College, 4-0, shutting out the Eagles for the first time ever. Yes, ever. BC outshot UMass 35-19, but a good chunk of that came during a third period that UMass spent killing penalties and generally just trying to turtle with that big lead – after all, they’ve blown a lead in seemingly every loss this season. And yeah, you have to think BC was looking ahead to Saturday’s Fenway game against Northeastern, which is, in fact, happening (despite the fact that even NESN isn’t showing it on TV, thanks to their boneheaded move of securing broadcasting rights to a basketball conference that contains only one New England team, which happens to be the consensus worst team in said conference). And yeah, the holes in that BC team are beginning to show (they lost too much on offense and in net, and even the best blue line in the nation can only carry you for so long).
So, all downplaying aside, Mastalerz stopped 35 shots, and while many of them were of the half-hearted variety, he did make a few that would make even Timmy Thomas tip his cap (okay, specifically I’m talking about the one 24 seconds into the highlight reel). And regardless of all the belittling I tried to do in that last paragraph, no UMass goalie had ever shut out BC before. Not Gabe Winer. Not Jon Quick. Not Paul Dainton. But Mastalerz did it in his third collegiate start, and he looked damn good doing it.
Really, the story of last name’s game is that the defense continues to play well, up and down the lineup. Much like the last game against the Eagles, UMass played a smart, opportunistic game, got a quick shot from Allen past Billett, caught a couple breaks off of turnovers leading to two-on-ones, and after squandering a few giveaway chances in the first, took advantage of the same opportunities in the second. Peter “Peterangelo” DeAngelo got the first UMass shortie since the season before last. TJ Syner put a couple of non-empty net goals in the net for a change, and continued to look like a flash of lightning out there from time to time. The key was to get an early lead and really force BC to start thinking toward tomorrow. UMass almost didn’t do that, committing some dumb penalties in the late first period that nearly led to an Eagles lead, but to their credit, the PK continued its recent solid stretch, and UMass converted on that momentum with a second period that has to rank among their finest all season.
So let’s look at the grand scheme of things for a moment. Lowell lost in hilarious fall-from-ahead fashion to Vermont, and suddenly the Minutemen, as “miserable” a season as they’re supposedly having, are just two points behind the supposed River Rat powerhouse, albeit with Lowell holding two more games in hand, but there’s no question which direction these two teams are trending. We could take a defeatist attitude and talk about the race for 8th place, where UMass has a comfy seven-point lead on Vermont for the basement, and thanks to last night’s results, a point up on UNH and two up on Northeastern. In fact, UMass is just three points behind Maine for home ice with a game in hand on the Black Bears. The best part of all of this? UMass has a home-and-home with Lowell, two at Maine, and two at the Bill against the Wildcats, plus another Matthews visit. And there’s still time to catch Merrimack, with that season series waiting to begin. Sure, the Warriors are #3 in the conference, but you have to like that the Minutemen have five of their six meetings with BC and BU out of the way already – and a respectable 2-2-1 record in those games to boot. (Even if it should be 4-1-0 with those two BU collapses. No, damnit, POSITIVE THOUGHTS)
Okay, getting-carried-away aside, Vermont comes in next weekend. Bury them.
P.S. Hey, oh by the way, UMass plays St. Joe’s at 4 in hoops, in a battle of two top-70 RPI teams. UMass is a bit short-handed with some injuries and needs all the crowd noise/energy help it can get. I won’t be able to make it, but I saw plenty of students in the student section watching on TV last night, so I know y’all are there. You know you don’t give a shit about the Saints-Niners game, and you’ll be home in plenty of time to watch Tebow-Brady II. Go, and be loud. Please?