AMHERST, Mass. — There wasn’t any doubt that Maine hockey coach Shawn Walsh was ecstatic with his team’s 3-2 overtime win over UMass-Amherst on Friday night.
After all, by the time the Black Bears reached the man who netted the game-winner 4:10 into the extra session, Dan Kerluke, Walsh was practically at the UMass blue line, pumping his fist in the air in excitement.
Kerluke’s seventh goal of the season and second of the night capped a three-goal comeback for Maine. Trailing 2-0 entering the third period, the Black Bears received a goal from Robert Liscak only 50 seconds into the final frame. Kerluke followed with the game-tying score at 7:33, and then closed out the contest with a wrist shot that dented the twine right under the crossbar in the final minute of overtime.
“This is a huge come-from-behind win on the road,” Walsh said. “Our guys never gave up, they stayed positive even after the second period when we played well but came away with nothing to show for it. I liked our will, and that’s a credit to the guys on this team.”
Said Kerluke: “We’re trying to get into the NCAA picture. We need to get every point, every win that we can get.”
With a crucial two points on the line, the Minutemen (7-19-3, 6-12-1 Hockey East) received a bit of a break in the game’s opening minutes. Jimmy Callahan’s shot from the left circle was stopped by Maine goalie Matt Yeats, but the rebound caromed high into the air and was knocked in by a Black Bears defenseman. Darcy King was credited with the goal, as he was the closest to the cage when the puck crossed the line.
Senior winger R.J. Gates then single-handedly set up the second UMass goal early in the middle stanza. He drilled a Maine defenseman in the left-wing corner and fed a pass to Martin Miljko in the slot. The junior winger finished the play with a wrist shot that beat Yeats at 1:36.
UMass was able to maintain its lead into the third period thanks to the play of senior netminder Markus Helanen (33 saves). Maine pestered Helanen for most of the night, and finally broke through early in the third on a goal from Liscak that just crossed the goal line.
Following the goal, there was some debate as to whether the puck had gone in. Referee John Gravallese did not make any indication that the goal was scored originally, even though the goal light had gone on. Eventually, Gravallese conferred with his linemates and ruled that the puck had crossed the line, much to the dismay of the Minutemen.
“I didn’t have a view and neither did the ref,” said UMass-Amherst coach Don Cahoon, who was involved in a heated discussion with Gravallese immediately after the goal. “I just wanted to know if he used the goal judge, but the ref ultimately makes the goal.”
Liscak’s marker kept the momentum on the side of the Black Bears, who took advantage of a defensive breakdown by UMass later in the period to knot the game. Don Richardson and Tom Reimann teamed up to keep a clearing attempt inside the Minutemen zone before Reimann threaded a pass to Kerluke in the slot. With no one within 20 feet of him, the senior forward waited for Helanen to commit before flipping the puck into an empty cage for the tying goal.
UMass had a chance to record the go-ahead score when Maine defenseman Peter Metcalf was whistled for holding at 14:51. Instead, the Black Bears killed the penalty with relative ease, which helped to send the game to overtime.
Despite a foiled bid by Maine’s Niko Dimitrakos in the opening minute of the extra session, it appeared that the game was going to end in a deadlock. However, Kerluke finished off a Black Bears rush by taking a pass from Reimann in the slot and firing a shot over Helanen’s glove.
“We overplayed the puck,” said Cahoon of the game-winner. “We didn’t have our weak side people hold enough ice, and they sifted the puck to the trailer [Kerluke]. That’s something that they do well, and it’s something that you have to be very patient to defend.”
While the Minutemen were unable to distance themselves from last-place Merrimack with the loss, Maine (12-9-6, 7-6-4 Hockey East) jumped into a tie for fourth place in the league with Boston University thanks to the win. However, at this point, the Black Bears are taking a mentality that differs greatly from playing just for home ice in the league playoffs.
“We don’t want to rely on winning the Hockey East tournament like we did last year,” Walsh said. “Every win for us now is big, big, big.”
The two teams will face off again on Saturday night at the Mullins Center.