The first 13 minutes of the third period looked all too familiar for Massachusetts.
Protecting a 2-1 lead against Connecticut, the Minutemen afforded the Huskies two third-period power plays. After killing both off without much mettle from UConn, UMass added three late scores, cruising to a 5-1 win.
“Third periods are something that we’ve been trying to work on lately,” UMass captain Brett Watson said. “They’ve haven’t gone too great for us in the past.”
The victory ended a two-game skid for the Minutemen, who have won six of their last seven against UConn.
Penalties were a constant for UMass on Friday. However, a minor midway through the first period ultimately resulted in the game-winning goal. With one second remaining on a Chase Langeraap holding minor, senior winger Chris Davis went off on a hooking call.
A loose puck rolled along the half-wall where UMass’ Cory Quirk grabbed the puck and flipped it into the neutral zone; Berry anticipated the play and chased down Quirk’s pass.
He skated in alone on UConn netminder Beau Erickson and faked on his backhand. Erickson drifted deep into his crease, leaving him without much of a chance when Berry shifted back to his forehand and tucked it under his glove. The goal, Berry’s sixth of the season, gave UMass a 2-0 lead.
At 17 minutes, 58 seconds of the period, a Casey Wellman hit from behind put the Minutemen down a man and the Huskies capitalized. Junior Chris Ochoa beat UMass goaltender Paul Dainton on the blocker side to halve UMass’ lead.
“The positive on the power play is that we’re starting to create some opportunities. We weren’t doing that earlier in the year,” Marshall said. “We were kind of handcuffing ourselves on the power play, so now we’re starting to create some of those things.”
UConn had two power plays in the third period, but couldn’t level the game before UMass’ three-goal run in the final seven minutes. Recently, closing games has proved a challenge for the Minutemen. The momentum picked up from the third-period kills jump-started the UMass offense, allowing it to seal the victory.
“The penalty kill was solid all night long,” UMass coach Don ‘Toot’ Cahoon said, who notched his 300th career win. “We did a good job of keeping them on the peripheral.
“We definitely got some momentum [off the penalty kill], but it hurts the team to have to kill so many penalties. We placed a real emphasis on cutting back on the penalties after the first period.”
UMass freshman T.J. Syner started the game’s scoring at 5:03 of the first period. A shot from junior defenseman Justin Braun bounced around the UConn zone before falling on Syner’s stick in front of the crease. The goal was the first of Syner’s career.
The Huskies have now lost their last two games and do not play again until Dec. 29 against No. 10 Air Force. UMass takes on another Atlantic Hockey opponent in American International next Friday at the Mullins Center.
“[The long layoff] is something we do every year,” UConn coach Bruce Marshall said. “We usually end around this time, and then we have our tournament. We’ll get it cranked about again after exams with a good hard week of practice.”