No. 13 New Hampshire (10-6-4, 7-4-3 HE) didn’t settle for a tie Saturday night, rallying past the UMass Minutemen (9-9-2, 4-5-2 HE) with a 3-2 overtime win in the final game of a Hockey East home-and-home series, extending their unbeaten steak to six games (5-0-1).
Students may still be on break, but a sell-out crowd of 6,501 made it to the Whittemore Center to witness a scoreless opening period. The first penalty didn’t come until 15:06 when Wildcats’ junior Peter LeBlanc was sent to the box for boarding, but the Minutemen could not capitalize with the man advantage.
Both teams had plenty of opportunities crowding the crease, but the junior netminders pulled through. UNH’s Brian Foster [35 saves] stopped 13 in the first and UMass’ Dan Meyers [41 saves] grabbed 15.
“The first period, I thought we had some great scoring chances,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “I thought Meyers made two or three spectacular saves, I couldn’t believe he made the saves, and I’m not saying it was one-sided because Brian Foster obviously made some. But the first period, when we didn’t score, I thought it was going to be a long night.”
The action picked up in the second stanza as UMass had two more power play opportunities, this time producing a goal.
As UNH senior Kevin Kapstad sat in the box for cross-checking, the Minutemen got the puck behind the Wildcats’ net. Freshman Casey Wellman and sophomore James Marcou passed the puck to sophomore Chase Langeraap, who was waiting at the crease. Langeraap slipped it past Foster at 5:08 for his second power-play goal of the season, putting the Minutemen on the board.
The Wildcats [2-5 on the PP] finally got the man advantage at 9:18 when senior Scott Crowder was called for obstruction holding, but the Minutemen [1-3 on the PP] killed it.
With 47 seconds left in the second, Marcou roughed up Wildcats’ forward Danny Dries after the whistle and Dries shoved him back, which sent them both to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct.
A four-on-four to open the third period quickly became a four-on-three when UMass rookie T.J. Syner was called for tripping. The Wildcats evened the score 57 seconds into the period when Mike Sislo, the team’s leading scorer, potted his 14th goal of the season [4th PPG] off a slap shot from the top of the left circle.
However, the Minutemen only waited a few minutes to answer back. UMass junior Will Ortiz shot a wrister through a crowd of defensemen in the Wildcats’ zone to put the maroon and white back on top 2-1.
The Wildcats climbed back in it when senior Jamie Fritsch fired the puck from center ice just past the blue line to classmate Thomas Fortney, who was waiting by Meyers stick side to even the score once again at 9:45.
As the period came to a close, Marcou got a penalty for tripping at 19:36, giving the Wildcats full advantage heading into OT.
It only took a minute and a half for the home team to put an end to the deadlock. Senior co-captain Greg Collins dished the puck from center in the UMass zone to Bobby Butler driving down the right slot, who easily nabbed the game-winning power-play goal at 1:26, extending his own point streak to seven games [4G, 6A].
“Butler is playing well; I mean obviously him and Mike Sislo are scoring goals here and that’s a good thing,” said Umile. “But I like the production from all the lines tonight. I thought all lines had good scoring opportunities, we had good balance, we played at a great pace. We left one on the table last night with four seconds to go, so obviously to come out here and get two [points] is huge.”
“I think any coach in our situation would be frustrated with the outcome,” said UMass coach Don ‘Toot’ Cahoon. “But our guys battled and we got great goaltending. It’s been a real dickens for the last month, month and a half, to get something going in a positive direction, so it’s a real tough nut to swallow and not a good night as it turns out.”
Umile added, “The guys stayed with it; we responded every time they [UMass] scored, tied it up, and won it in overtime. So big win for us, big win in Hockey East. That is how it is in Hockey East; you can get a split, you don’t want to get swept, but if you get two, that’s a good weekend.”