HANOVER, N.H. — The Zamboni ate a t-shirt. Mike Johnson took care of all the pucks.
In a game that featured a 20-minute delay after the Zamboni ran over a t-shirt in a promotional giveaway and became temporarily disabled, the Massachusetts Minutemen received another sterling night from Johnson en route to a 3-0 win over Dartmouth Saturday in front of 3,215 at Thompson Arena.
Johnson, a senior, swallowed all 29 pucks that came his way to notch his second consecutive whitewash and run his career-best shutout streak to 167 minutes and 11 seconds, dating back to Nov. 17.
“It’s one of those things where I can’t do it myself. The guys in front of me are young, but they’re playing great in the defensive zone,” said Johnson, who recorded his fifth career shutout. “I came in tonight and said, ‘If I can shut them down in the first 10 minutes, we’ll get a goal and hopefully we’ll win.’ Fortunately, that’s how it worked out.”
In front of Johnson, the Minutemen (6-6-0, 2-3-0 Hockey East) were quick and crisp with their passes, looking particularly effective on defense as they held the Big Green’s dangerous top line scoreless on only four shots.
When Dartmouth did get its chances, Johnson was there to take care of business. He made six saves in the first period, 11 in the second and 12 in the third, helping UMass to its first two-game winning streak of the season.
“Michael is a very good goaltender. He has been for a long time,” said UMass head coach Don Cahoon. “He doesn’t surprise me when he lights it up out there.”
The Big Green (4-2-1, 3-1-1 ECAC) suffered their first loss since the season opener on Nov. 4 at Harvard, a span of five games in which they were 4-0-1, including three wins in a row entering Saturday.
As convincing as the loss was, it could have been worse; goaltender Nick Boucher (18 saves) stuffed three breakaway chances, two coming in the first period when the game was close.
“I thought Nick played well,” said Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet. “Those breakaways are a product of being down and starting to press. Unfortunately, we had to rely on ‘Bouche’ to make some tough saves and keep us in the game.”
As it turned out, freshman Craig MacDonald’s power-play goal at the 15:19 mark of the first period stood up as the game-winner, even though the contest was shaping up to be competitive and exciting.
On the goal, MacDonald took a pass from Jimmy Callahan and, as he was being pulled down, whipped it between the pipes for a 1-0 UMass lead.
The Minutemen scored again less than two minutes into the middle frame, as senior Martin Miljko shot it through a screen from the top of the right circle and floated it just inside the right post.
Interestingly, Dartmouth outshot the Minutemen, 9-1, in the first 14 minutes of the period, but the one UMass shot was a goal, while Johnson saved all nine Big Green attempts.
“I thought Dartmouth forechecked us really well. We had trouble breaking the puck out of the zone,” Cahoon said. “We were just lucky that Johnson played as well as he did when they had scoring opportunities.”
The Minutemen added to their lead at the 17:28 mark with MacDonald’s second goal of the night, a deflection off a shot from Nick Kuiper.
After the lengthy stoppage due to the Zamboni’s brush-in with a t-shirt, UMass defenseman Samuli Jalkanen made it 4-0 in the latter half of the third stanza with his second goal of the season.
The Big Green, meanwhile, spent most of the third experimenting with different lines, trying unsuccessfully to generate some offense. Dartmouth suffered its first loss in four games at home and fell to a still-impressive 12-2-1 at Thompson Arena since Jan. 5.
“Games like this happen in the course of a hockey season, but it is disappointing that it had to happen at home. We want to put on a better show than that,” Gaudet said. “Hockey is a funny game. You can be hitting on all cylinders one night, and then the next night, it’s a different game. But I give UMass a lot of credit. They played a great game.”
UMass will host Maine at the Mullins Center next Friday, while Dartmouth will head up Interstate 89 next Saturday to battle Vermont at the Gut.