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College Hockey:
Ayers Blanks Minutemen

— If you’re a Massachusetts hockey fan, and your team outshoots No. 2 New Hampshire, 32-18, on the road, you figure your chances for a victory are pretty good.

You would have figured wrong, however. The outcome was just the opposite, as the Wildcats won, 4-0, powered by two goals from All-American Colin Hemingway, and Mike Ayers’ fourth career shutout.

Lanny Gare notched two assists on the night for New Hampshire (8-2-2, 6-2-1 Hockey East). Gare has now recorded a point in seven straight games. Massachusetts (5-5-0, 3-4-0) saw its three-game winning streak come to an end.

“I thought we played a great team today. They’re talented; extremely well coached,” said Massachusetts head coach Don Cahoon. “It just shows how good of a team that they are to perhaps not have their ‘Grade-A’ game today, but to do the things they needed to do to win the game. They play well defensively.”

UNH was coming off a pair of difficult games to two Hockey East foes ranked in the top 10 nationally. On Tuesday, Sean Collins’ second of two goals was the difference in overtime as the Wildcats defeated top-ranked and previously undefeated Boston College, 3-2. Friday the Wildcats also played an extra session, falling to the Black Bears, 2-1, in Orono. Massachusetts was coming off two impressive wins over Massachusetts-Lowell along with a non-conference victory over Iona.

“It was a long week. We played some tough teams, including this [Massachusetts] team tonight,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “I thought we played very well. They play well; they trap you and try to create turnovers. They’re extremely well-coached.”

Indeed, the Minutemen kept the Wildcats bottled up in the neutral zone for the better part of the first period.

Massachusetts, off to one of its best starts in years, went toe-to-toe with the powerful Wildcats for the majority of the first period. However, an icing call against the Minutemen proved to be costly at the 12:19 mark.

Gare won the ensuing faceoff back to Hemingway, who fired a wrist shot that deflected off the left post and past Massachusetts netminder Gabe Winer for a 1-0 Wildcat lead. It was Hemingway’s eighth goal of the season, and Gare’s league-leading 11th assist.

Massachusetts’ best chance came at the 14:00 mark, when hulking defenseman Thomas Pock of Klagenfurt, Austria, sent through a wrist shot from just outside the faceoff circle that Ayers barely got a glove on.

The Minutemen held the edge in shots after one period, 8-7.

In the second period, Preston Callander picked up the rebound off his own shot, skated in towards the crease and lifted a shot over Winer for his second goal of the season and a 2-0 New Hampshire lead.

For his part, Callander liked the way his team responded after two tough road games.

“The Maine game could have gone either way; I thought we outplayed them,” Callander said. “The bounces didn’t go our way that night.”

Hemingway sat out the Maine game due to a game disqualification he received for getting into a fight with BC’s Ben Eaves on Tuesday.

“I haven’t had to do that since freshman year — watch a great college hockey game from the stands. It was tough. Really tough,” said Hemingway. “I just kept thinking that maybe I could have chipped in with a goal, or set someone up in that game that might have been the difference.”

Great players tend to make their own luck happen, and that’s exactly what did in fact happen on UNH’s third goal.

With Massachusetts’ Peter Alden off for hooking at 6:52 of the middle frame, Hemingway found himself wide open to the right of Winer. The senior wound up for what was planned to be slap shot, but the Surrey, British Columbia, native whiffed on his shot, barely connecting stick to puck. It didn’t matter, however, as the puck went right between Winer’s pads for his second goal of the game and ninth of the year.

“Hey, I got enough on it, though,” laughed Hemingway when describing his fortuitous goal. “I looked up at Lanny [Gare] in disbelief. Dumb luck. That’s hockey.”

Quipped Cahoon, “Gabe looked like he was expecting a fastball, and got a changeup instead.”

Massachusetts’ best chance to score in the period came off the stick of Tim Turner on a Minuteman power play. The senior captain took the puck from behind the UNH net and sent a backhander through the crease that Ayers got a piece of while sprawled on the ice. Seconds later, Gare skated in on a breakaway shorthanded, only to be robbed by Winer, who held his ground.

Steve Saviano set up New Hampshire’s fourth goal in the third period on a great individual effort. Circling in front of the Massachusetts net, he picked up a loose puck while being bothered from behind by a Minuteman defender. His one-handed pass was sent home by Justin Aikens for the second goal of his sophomore season.

The highlight of the period, however, was yet to come.

Massachusetts looked to capitalize on a New Hampshire turnover in the Wildcats end, breaking in two on one. Freshman Mike Mullen took a pass right in front of Ayers and sent a point-blank cannon on goal. Ayers made perhaps the save of the year, making a miraculous glove stop to the delight of the Whittemore Center crowd.

“Their guy made a great pass through our defenseman. I was lucky enough to glove it,” said Ayers nonchalantly.

“I told Mike it’s one of the better saves I’ve seen, and we’ve seen some pretty good ones here,” added Umile.

It went without saying that Cahoon was impressed with the New Hampshire team he saw on the ice Sunday.

“UNH is very well-balanced. They’ve constructed their team so that they can put out a lot of different units out there,” Cahoon said. “They can play numerous styles, tight or wide open. If you saw the Boston College game, it was like a playoff game.”

Hemingway was just glad to get the victory.

“This was the biggest game of the season so far for us, really. We needed these two points.”

Massachusetts next plays at Vermont on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. New Hampshire hosts Connecticut on Saturday (7 p.m.).

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