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Sparked by a two-goal, late third period rally, the visiting Massachusetts Minutemen knocked off the Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks, 4-3, Saturday night to sweep the weekend series.
The win gives the Minutemen its first weekend home-and-home sweep of a Hockey East weekend series since knocking off Providence on Jan. 7 and 8, 2000. It also clinches the season series against sister school Lowell, and the Alumni Cup awarded to the winner, for the first time since the 1996-97 season.
Both games were almost identical in that Lowell outshot and outplayed UMass, but an inability to capitalize early in the contest combined with some “puck luck” for the Minutemen, allowed UMass to hang in the game and eventually win in the third period.
“We should have been down 9-1 at the end of the period,” noted a relieved-looking UMass head coach Don “Toot” Cahoon.
But the Minutemen’s ability to hang in the game allowed the newly formed line of Mike Warner, Tim Turner and Chris Capraro to have a career night, notching seven points total, including the final two goals 82 seconds apart in the third period.
“I was lucky to be playing with two great upperclassmen,” said Capraro, a native of nearby Medford, Mass., familiar with the Tsongas Arena ice where he competed for the Massachusetts high school championships the past two years. His tying goal with 9:01 to play in the game was the first of his career, and set the stage for him to set up Warner 1:22 later for the game winner.
“We’re playing really well right now and this is one of the biggest confidence builders I’ve ever had since I’ve been at UMass,” said Turner. “We’re going to build off this and keep going with it.”
The game began with, as Cahoon called it, a period where the “ice was tilted.” Lowell outshot UMass, 13-6, in the frame, but were unable to capitalize on a lot of scoring chances when the chance was imminent to put the game away.
“The bad news for us is that we don’t possess that killer instinct,” said Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald, whose River Hawks have begun the season 0-6-0 in Hockey East, the school’s worst start in the 19-year history of the league. “[In the first period], if you look at where we were getting shots from, their goaltender was equal to the task.”
On the other hand, Lowell’s goaltending, which many, including MacDonald, have considered an issue of late, was nowhere near equal to the task. Chris Davidson finished the night with only 16 saves on 20 shots, one night after fellow netminder Dominic Smart stopped only 14 of 19 shots he saw.
With Lowell leading, 2-0, in the first on goals by two rookies — Brad King’s third of the season and Elias Godoy’s first career marker — Lowell looked poised to turn the game into an early rout.
UMass goaltender Gabe Winer (31 saves) made an incredible save on Lowell’s Peter Hay at 15:39. And as so often is the case, the Minutemen took what could’ve been a 3-0 game and turned it into a one-goal affair when defenseman Thomas Pock scored just 20 seconds later.
As the second period began, UMass seemed to finally have their skates under them. Lowell, though, raised the lead back to two at 3-1 when Andrew Martin finished off a 2-on-1 at 9:26.
Again, though, grabbing a two-goal lead didn’t help the River Hawks, allowing the Minutemen to pulled back within a goal when Turner and Capraro perfectly worked a give-and-go with Turner finishing it at 11:44.
The third period was possibly Lowell’s best chance to ice the game, outshooting UMass, 10-4. The River Hawks even looked to have extended the lead early in the period, but a quick whistle by referee John Gravallese disallowed a Lowell goal and kept the score 3-2.
That was when Capraro, Warner and Turner went to work to turn the tables. The line capitalized on back-to-back opportunities on careless defensive mistakes by RiverHawk senior blueliners Darryl Green and Josh Reed. Each made a turnover in the defensive zone that led to immediate UMass goals that ultimately sealed the victory.
With the win, the Minutemen have three wins in the young season in Hockey East, equaling their mark from a season ago. Lowell on the other hand has dropped six in a row and has only four wins in its last 20 regular season Hockey East contests dating back to last season.
Things don’t get a lot easier for the River Hawks as they face No. 7 Boston University — themselves a victim of two league losses on the weekend — on the road this Thursday night. After that single game, the River Hawks will have a 14 day rest before its next game. The anticipated rest is something that MacDonald feels is a good thing.
“If you look at our season to this point, we’ve played a lot of awfully good hockey games, but the problem is we haven’t played that way for 60 minutes,” said MacDonald. “I think [the break] will give us some time to work on some skills and things that need to be addressed.”
UMass will take its weekend sweep into a non-league game against Iona on Thursday before returning to league play next Sunday traveling to No. 2 New Hampshire, a place the Minutemen have won just once in 11 tries.