One night after Massachusetts pulled off one of the most incredible upsets in the program’s history, the Minutemen outdid themselves.
UMass finished off its Hockey East quarterfinal sweep at Alfond Arena Friday night by stunning Maine again by a 4-2 count. The Minutemen now advance to the FleetCenter and the conference semifinals for the first time ever.
“We’ve got a long ways to go to do the things Maine has done, but you’ve got to start somewhere,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said on his team’s performance.
Mike Warner sealed the Black Bears’ fate with eight minutes left in the game, as he wristed a laser under the crossbar to give UMass all the insurance it would need. Warner’s tally came six minutes after Maine’s Derek Damon converted on a scrum in front of the net to pull the Black Bears within one goal.
The Minutemen jumped out to an 3-0 first-period lead and never looked back, as Maine goaltender Jimmy Howard was pulled early for the second time in as many nights. Thomas Pock started the festivities three minutes into the game, as he flung the puck at the net off a failed Black Bear clearing attempt. The puck caromed off a skate and into the back of the net to get the Minutemen on the scoreboard.
Freshman Chris Capraro doubled the UMass lead midway through the period, as he one-timed Mike Warner’s feed on a two-on-one for his seventh goal of the season. Howard was sent to the showers five minutes later, as Stephen Werner tipped home Pock’s shot from the point for the 3-0 lead.
“We put ourselves behind the eight-ball in that respect,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “Credit has to go to UMass for being opportunistic and putting those pucks in the net.”
The normally solid Howard surrendered six goals in under 40 minutes of action in the series.
“I was shocked that he was starting, and I knew we had to get to him early, because he was going to be thinking about it,” Warner said.
The Black Bears, however, refused to die, as Todd Jackson got Maine’s first goal after cleaning up a rebound from Robert Liscak. Maine continued to pepper UMass netminder Gabe Winer with a flurry of shots toward the end of the second period, but Jackson’s shot was the only attempt to get by the freshman Winer. Maine outshot the Minutemen 10-1 in the middle frame.
“Gabe came up huge,” senior captain Tim Turner said. “He was poised, he made the saves, and we were able to weather the storm and regroup for the third period.”
“I think it’s a real credit to the maturity of the kids that they were able to withstand the pressure,” Cahoon added.
Maine now looks toward an extra week of preparation for the NCAA tournament after losing its first two Hockey East quarterfinal matchups since 1994. The Black Bears have stumbled considerably, winning only four out of their last 13 games after starting the season with a record of 20-2-3.
“We need everyone on the same page, unfortunately we don’t always do that,” Whitehead said. “Honestly, I’m confident that we’re going to bounce back.”
Meanwhile, UMass continues its improbable run in the Hockey East tournament after missing out on the postseason the past two seasons.
“The fact that we came here into Maine, and swept them in two games is astronomical,” Turner said. “It’s the most exciting thing I’ve ever been through in sports, and I’m just glad to be a part of it.”