PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Backstopped by 36 saves from goaltender Markus Helanen, the UMass-Amherst Minutemen skated away with a 3-1 win over the Providence Friars on a snowy Friday night at Schneider Arena.
The Minutemen were outshot (37-18), outhit, and generally outplayed with long stretches of the game taking place in the UMass zone, yet the senior goaltender — a nemesis of PC over the last two seasons — was strong in between the pipes and carried his team to a victory.
PC opened up the scoring with what would prove to be its only goal of the night at 10:23 of the first period.
A rush by Jon DiSalvatore, Marc Suderman, and Peter Fregoe culminated with Fregoe taking a shot from deep inside the near faceoff circle that Helanen saved down low. DiSalvatore, however, took the rebound and calmly sent one upstairs on the UMass netminder for his sixth goal, giving PC a 1-0 lead.
The Friars outshot UMass 9-5 in the first and 18-9 in the second, yet struggled to click offensively with several key players sidelined with injuries (including defensemen Matt Libby, Jason Platt, and Sean Weiman, along with forwards Drew Omicioli and Doug Wright).
Yet when the Friars had their chances, Helanen was there. His teammates rarely challenged PC goaltender Boyd Ballard, yet a flurry midway through the second period proved enough for the Minutemen to prevail.
Martin Miljko netted his seventh goal of the season at 10:46 when he slid a rebound of a Jimmy Callahan shot past Ballard to tie the game 1-1. Up until that point, the UMass offense was stagnant on the evening, with the majority of the play taking place in its own zone.
However, the depleted PC defensive corps began having trouble clearing the puck out of its own zone, and UMass again took advantage at 15:51 for what proved to be the game-winning score.
Senior R.J. Gates deposited home his first of the season after his teammates Samuli Jalkanen and Mike Warner cycled the puck down low in the PC zone.
Gates sent a wrap-around score under Ballard to give UMass a 2-1 lead, one that they held going into the third period.
The Minutemen didn’t look pretty in holding onto the lead in the third, as the Friars peppered Helanen with 10 shots and had several excellent opportunities late in the period.
However, UMass’ penalty killing was far superior to the inconsistent Friar power-play unit, and PC’s 0-for-2 showing on the man advantage in the third period proved to be its undoing.
A late empty-net score by Mike Warner at 19:50 added the insurance.
The victory for the Minutemen is their fourth straight over PC, with the Friars’ last win over UMass coming back in February 1999.
More importantly, the victory lifted UMass back over the .500 mark in league play (4-3 Hockey East, 4-10-2 overall), while PC dropped to 5-3-1 in the league, 8-4-3 overall.
The Friars — which have managed just a pair of goals in their last two games at Schneider Arena — have also won just once in their last five games, and are 1-2-2 in that span.
UMass will take on Maine at Orono on Dec. 14 before breaking for the holidays. PC returns to action against Ferris State at the Denver Cup after Christmas, with its next league game vs. the same UMass Minutemen slated for Jan. 6 at Schneider Arena.