AMHERST, Mass. — Faced with only one game bridging a 19-day holiday break and the start of the second half of its Hockey East schedule, UMass-Amherst realized that Tuesday night’s game against a 1-7-2 Brown club couldn’t be taken lightly.
After all, the Minutemen had yet to defeat a nonconference opponent [0-7-2] heading into their matchup with the Bears. As a result, UMass needed a strong showing in its final nonleague game of the regular season in order to catapult its way into conference play.
Thanks to two-goal efforts from both junior winger Martin Miljko and sophomore forward Tim Turner, the Minutemen captured a 4-1 win in front of 1,077 at the William D. Mullins Center in a game that was postponed from last Saturday because of a weekend snowstorm.
“Tonight’s game was probably one of the most important games of the year for us mentally,” said senior captain Jeff Turner, who finished the night with two assists. “We finished off the first half of the season playing well, but we came away with nothing to show for it except for a win at Providence. If we had lost to Brown tonight, it could have turned into a very negative thing.”
Said UMass-Amherst hockey coach Don Cahoon: “We had a pretty good effort considering the layoff. We needed to play in a game situation [before heading back in conference play] to get the experience again of the power play, the penalty kill, and of getting bumped a little bit.”
The four-goal offensive output snapped a long scoring drought for the Minutemen. They had not recorded more than three markers in a contest dating back to Nov. 3, a 5-4 overtime win against UMass-Lowell. Since that contest, UMA had posted a 2-8-1 record and combined for only 23 goals in 11 games.
“Our offense has been sporadic,” Cahoon said. “We’ve got some good play out of Jeff [Turner], Tim [Turner], Martin [Miljko] and a couple of other guys have chipped in consistently. But it seems like it comes in bunches.”
On the defensive end, UMass goalie Markus Helanen was a mere 2:16 away from his third shutout of the season, but Brown senior winger Matt Kohansky spoiled the bid with a power play goal late in regulation. The Minutemen blueliners also held the Bears offensive attack at bay, meriting only 17 shots in the game.
“Sometimes those are the tougher games to play [when a goaltender doesn't see a lot of shots], but Markus made all of the saves that he was supposed to make,” Cahoon said. “He stopped a couple of breakaways, and also made a couple of saves in tight. You can’t rate his performance as anything but pretty good.”
Tim Turner opened the scoring only 4:17 into the game when he capitalized off a Brown turnover in its own zone. A careless clearing attempt that was headed for the right-wing boards was snatched up by the forward behind the Bears cage. The Saginaw, Mich., native then skated to the left of goaltender Yann Danis before flipping a backhander past the Brown netminder for a 1-0 lead.
A pair of infractions that were called against Bears defensemen Owen Walter and Chris Busby late in the opening frame set the stage for the second UMass goal. Miljko was on the receiving end of a tape-to-tape pass from Jeff Turner and blasted a one-timer from the left circle that Danis never had a chance of stopping.
“Our power play has picked it up,” Jeff Turner said. “We move the puck 10 times better this year than we did last year. We have more chemistry out there, and because of that, our power play chances have increased dramatically.”
Jeff Turner and Miljko also teamed up for the third UMass goal midway through the second period. Turner chased down a Brown clearing attempt at the left point and floated a pass towards his linemate in front of the Bears net. Miljko’s first shot was blocked, but his persistence resulted in a second effort that eluded Danis.
A period after Miljko captured the team lead in goals  by leaping over Tim Turner, the youngster jumped back into a tie with his teammate with his second goal of the night at the 9:48 mark of the final frame. Justin Shaw fired a pass through the crease from the left-wing corner, and Turner was waiting at the right post to knock in the feed for a 4-0 lead.
Kohansky then closed out the scoring when he redirected a shot from Josh Barker at 17:44 of the third period. The goal was the sixth of the season for the forward.
Brown has now posted a 0-7-2 record since earning its lone win of the season against Providence College in the Mayor’s Cup on Nov. 4.
“We’ve been hot and cold this year,” said sophomore winger Keith Kirley, who assisted on the goal by Kohansky. “We have moments where we look great, but we haven’t been able to put things together on certain nights. It [the reason for the inconsistency] has been tough to pinpoint.”
Both teams resume league play on Friday night. UMass-Amherst travels to Providence to face the Friars, while Brown hosts RPI. The Minutemen upended PC by a 3-1 score back on Dec. 8 at Schneider Arena.