AMHERST, Mass. — The UMass-Amherst power play unit gave Niagara a special education in penalty killing with two goals in seven attempts, as the Minutemen skated away with a 4-2 victory in Amherst.
“We have to pick it up some if we want to beat teams like Boston University and Boston College,” UMass forward Thomas Pock said. “But it’s a good start for our team.”
Junior forward Tim Turner notched the game winner on the power play at 15:29 of the first period in the home teams first opening night victory in six years.
Turner’s goal came on a broken play in which he cleaned up line mate Pock’s rebound and fired it past sprawling NU net minder Ryan McNeil.
McNeil, who left the game after hitting his unprotected skull on the post in the third, made 14 saves in the losing effort.
The power play tally by Turner capped of a dominating period of play that saw the Minutemen take a 3-1 lead into the locker room. Scott Horvath’s goal almost halfway through the first frame gave UMass its second lead of the contest. The sophomore, playing on a line with two freshmen, intercepted a pass at the NU blue line and played give and go with forward Peter Trovato before netting the goal.
Less than two minutes before that, the Purple Eagle’s Ryan Gale silenced the crowd of 2,784 with the equalizer. Gale took an outlet pass from John Heffernan, out muscled defenseman Samuli Jalkanen, and beat UMass keeper Mike Johnson five-hole.
Johnson allowed only one other goal, as he stopped 20 shots in lead protection mode. The senior Minnesotan is in his first year as the official starter after backing up the departed Markus Helanen for three seasons.
“It is a great feeling [to play with the lead],” Johnson said. “There’s a lot more pressure on you than if you are down a couple goals.”
Pock got the scoring started on the power play, only four minutes into the match up. Jalkanen drew the penalty when Niagara forward Rob Bumbaco held him.
Senior captain Toni Soderholm quarterbacked the UMass PP, feeding Martin Miljko in the left slot who faked the one-timer and threaded a cross-ice feed to a cutting Pock for the goal.
Pock started his expectation-laden sophomore season off with a goal and an assist to tie for the game lead with NU defenseman Mike Bozoian (2 assists).
With UMass leading 4-1 in the second, Bumbaco dug a rebound out of a goal -mouth scramble before stuffing it into the yawning net. That goal cut the deficit to two but that is as close as the Eagles would get against a suddenly stingy UMass defense.
“I was happy with the way our defense finished the game,” UMass Coach Don “Toot” Cahoon said.
Niagara falls to 0-2-0 with the loss, coming off a 7-3 defeat to UMass-Lowell at the front end of it’s Bay State road trip.
The Minutemen, on the other hand, started the season at home for the first time (1976 vs. New England College) since the programs reinstatement in 1993.