AMHERST, Mass. — When the final weekend of the regular season rolls around, both the UMass-Amherst and UMass-Lowell hockey teams will surely reflect back on Thursday night’s contest at the William D. Mullins Center.
Even though the River Hawks left Amherst with a 3-2 victory, it was a game that could have resulted in a win for either side, or even in a draw. The Minutemen could have clinched the season series over Lowell and leaped into a tie for fourth place with a win, but Yorick Treille’s power-play goal with 14:20 remaining provided the margin of difference.
“This was a very important game tonight,” UML coach Tim Whitehead said. “I think that the guys knew that, and as a result, played a little nervous tonight. Actually, I thought that we were fortunate to get two points. I think it would have been more just if it had ended in a tie, but we’ll take it. These are two monstrous points.”
Coming into the night, the River Hawks resided the Hockey East basement. However, with a win over the Minutemen, they catapulted all the way up the ladder into a tie for fifth with UMA and Boston University.
“It’s not that much fun,” quipped River Hawks defenseman Ron Hainsey. “I’d rather be four or five points up and have home ice right now. Every Hockey East game — all 24 of them — are usually very exciting, and with the standings the way that they are, every game is critical to how things are going to shape up for the postseason.”
With the game tied at 2 in the third period, UMass-Amherst winger Brad Nizwantowski was whistled for hooking at 4:58. On the ensuing power play, Treille capped off a three-on-two rush with his eighth goal of the year. The senior waited patiently for the play to develop and then snapped a bid from the left point that found the back of the net.
The goal ended up as a bit of redemption for Lowell, which squandered a 2-0 first period lead, yet still managed to come away with two points thanks to Treille’s heroics.
“I’m very upset about tonight,” UMass-Amherst coach Don Cahoon said. “I’m not cavalier about this in any way, shape or form. I don’t think that we deserved the fate that we got, and I thought that we were dealt a pretty [expletive] hand.”
The visitors opened the scoring only 5:45 into the contest on their second shot of the game. Freshman forward Laurent Menuier skated behind the cage before sliding a pass to Kyle Kidney. Stationed at the left of UMA goalie Markus Helanen, the UML forward batted Menuier’s pass into the net for a 1-0 lead.
The River Hawks doubled their advantage just over three minutes later with the first of two power-play goals, as Hainsey’s shot from the right point was redirected by Menuier.
UMass-Amherst responded with a goal of its own before the intermission to trim the River Hawks’ lead in half. Tim Turner knocked in a loose puck during a scramble in front of the UML net. The power-play marker was his 13th of the season.
The Minutemen knotted the score midway through the second period when senior captain Jeff Turner finished a breakaway with a shot past Jimi St. John. UMass-Amherst had a chance to take the lead with two power plays later in the middle frame, but failed to convert on both opportunities.
“This was a huge game tonight,” UMass-Amherst junior defenseman Toni Soderholm said. “It’s really disappointing to go down the way that we did. Lowell controlled the play in the first five minutes of the period. We spotted them two goals, and it’s tough to come back from that. Now we’ve just got to turn the page and move on to Saturday.”
Added Cahoon: “Every game is important, there’s no doubt about that.
Conceivably, we can finish in ninth place [in the league], but should we waste our time thinking about it now? No, because that would be a waste of energy. We’re not sitting in there wondering what the end of the year is going to be like. The only thing that we’re worried about is tomorrow’s practice and how we’re going to right this ship.”
Both of the Turner brothers finished the night with a goal and an assist for UMass-Amherst. Meunier paced the River Hawks with a goal and two assists. Treille added a goal and an assist for UML.
UMass-Amherst returns to action on Saturday night when it hosts Northeastern. The River Hawks will also host a Hockey East opponent on Saturday night, with Providence making the trip to Tsongas Arena.