PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Based on the preseason projections, this was Hockey East’s top team against its bottom one. On the ice, however, it was anybody’s game. UMass-Amherst gave Providence everything it could handle until Jon DiSalvatore’s goal with 5:10 remaining provided the final margin in a 3-2 win.
The victory came just five days after the Minutemen had stung the Friars on their home ice, dropping the preseason favorite to a 1-4 record, 0-2 in Hockey East. As a result, the contest was as much of a must-win game for PC as any this early can be.
“I think this is going to be the biggest win of the regular season for us,” said DiSalvatore. “Starting off with a little bit of a slump the way we did and coming through with a big win makes it more of an emotional [lift].
“It’s a much-needed win as far as the standings are concerned, but it’s very early in the season. I’d say it’s going to be a determining factor in how we take off in the season.”
UMass grabbed a first-period lead, but PC scored in the last minute to tie it. The roles were reversed in the second with the Minutemen getting a last-minute momentum-changer to enter the third period tied.
DiSalvatore scored on a rebound in front, a characteristic of all three PC goals, to give the Friars a much-needed first league win. They now stand at 2-4 overall and 1-2 in Hockey East. UMass-Amherst falls to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in within the league.
PC coach Paul Pooley dismissed the first vs. last aspect of the matchup as well as any expectation for a dominant win over the projected underdog.
“They’re very difficult to play,” he said. “You have to take a very simple approach to the game. Every time we got away from being simple, it was a turnover. They’re a very good hockey club. They play very well defensively and don’t give up much.
“On paper we were picked to finish first, but we aren’t ready to be a first-place hockey club yet. I hope we will be by the end of the year, but this was a big win for us and gives us a lot of confidence.”
The Minutemen fielded a lineup with 10 freshmen, including goaltender Tim Warner, but played the Friars even both territorially and on the scoreboard for most of the game.
“I liked our competitive spirit,” said UMass coach Don Cahoon, “but I didn’t think we played very organized. We showed our inexperience at certain times. A couple young mistakes cost us big.”
The Minutemen drew first blood at 15:47 of the first period. An instant before taking a crushing check from Jason Platt at the red line, Tim Vitek passed ahead along the right boards. Vitek’s taking one for team paid off since Platt’s hit left his defensive partner to handle a Scott Horvath and Peter Trovato two-on-one. Trovato cut to the net and beat goaltender Nolan Schaefer for the freshman’s first career goal.
The 1-0 deficit was an all too familiar one for the Friars, who had surrendered the first goal in all previous five games this year, four of which became losses.
Soon after, UMass threatened to open a two-goal lead with Jimmy Callahan and Matt Edlin breaking two-on-one. Callahan shot over the net, though, and it appeared the period would end with the score 1-0.
With only 20 seconds left, however, Providence’s John Luszcz scored a huge momentum goal to even the game. Warner made the initial stop, but as was often the case, could not control the rebound. With Warner scrambling to get back into position, Luszcz collected the rebound, spun and backhanded it into the net.
Following the evenly played first period in which PC edged UMass in shots, 13-12, it was more of the same in the second. The shots ended at 13-13, but this time the Minutemen got the emotional lift in the final minute.
Peter Fregoe scored his fifth at 3:04 off a rebound in front to make it 2-1. That lead stood until the 19:01 mark when Tim Turner picked off a clearing attempt in the low slot. Schaefer stopped Turner’s shot, but Vitek scored his first career goal by putting in the rebound short side.
At 4:40 in the third, Providence had a golden opportunity to take the lead when Drew Omicioli took a home run pass at the far blue line and broke in all alone on Warner. Omicioli deked, but lost the puck on the dribble.
Turner and impressive freshman Greg Mauldin then threatened, but Schaefer turned them away leaving it to DiSalvatore to bury the game-winner at 14:50.
“It was just a scrum situation in front of the net,” said DiSalvatore. “There was a shot from the point and the rebound came to my stick. I was able to take a step out to the right and the goalie was out of the net so I was able to put it home into the empty net.”
Devin Rask and Fregoe almost connected on an insurance goal soon after, but the shot went wide. Two minutes later, Rask had another great opportunity, but Warner made the stop of the night with a stacked pad save.
With 44 seconds remaining, a foolish penalty by Regan Kelly on a faceoff before the puck was even dropped opened the door for the Minutemen to tie the game, but they couldn’t capitalize even after pulling Warner with 27 seconds left to make it a six-on-four advantage.
Providence will look to even its Hockey East record when it hosts Merrimack on Saturday night. UMass-Amherst hosts Northeastern, hoping to return to .500 overall and a winning record in the league.