ESTERO, Fla. — By Matthew F. Sacco
USCHO Arena Reporter
ESTERO, Fla — It didn’t take long for the rumbling to start after Massachusetts’ shootout win over Ohio State in the first round of the Florida Everblades College Classic.
“Let the debate begin,” one fan exclaimed as Gabe Winer made a victory-sealing kick-save on Paul Caponigri.
There will always be shootout naysayers, especially when it’s implemented on a temporary basis for a tournament format. But for all the critics’ complaints, it’s hard to argue against the excitement it brings to a game that normally would have ended in a tie.
Officially, the game goes into the books as a 2-2 draw, but thanks to Winer’s four shootout saves and Stephen Werner’s second-round goal, the Minutemen will be playing in Sunday’s title game.
Werner, who had muffed on two earlier breakaway chances, gave UMass a 2-0 advantage on a pretty backhand-to-forehand move that twisted Buckeye goalie Mike Betz out of the crease.
“That’s a move I do a lot in practice,” Werner said. “I practice it on Gabe all the time. He’s got it figured it out but usually the first time you try it on a goalie it works. I knew it would work today. ”
Just like his freshman scoring sensation, UMass coach Don Cahoon played a hunch by using each of his three goalies for a period each. The plan worked out as Winer, the starter, was in net for the third period, the five-minute overtime and the shootout.
“I thought all three of them played well,” Cahoon said. “I did it once before in the ’93 season, I think, and we won a close game. I thought the circumstances dictated it but I probably won’t do it for another seven years.”
Cahoon added that Tim Warner and Mike Waidlich had been the sharper goalies in practice so he thought they deserved a chance. But Winer was the one who came up big in the end.
The freshman made six saves in 25 minutes of game action and allowed only Dave Steckel’s goal in five shootout chances.
“I didn’t want to be the guy that screwed this up for everybody,” Winer said. “It was a little weird when Coach said what he was going to do. But I just tried to concentrate when I go out there and once we got to the shootout I just didn’t think about it.”
Winer was especially stingy in the latter half of the third, stopping Buckeye star R.J. Umberger on a trio of open looks.
Umberger and fellow U.S. National Development Team alum Werner took the game on their shoulders in the final stanza.
Werner had a pair of shorthanded breakaways in the first 10 minutes. The first he shot high over the cage and the second he had slip off his stick.
Umberger answered later in the period on a partial breakaway of his own that Winer stuffed. He followed that with a hard snap shot from the slot and a pretty play that saw him settle the puck out of midair before sliding a wrist shot wide.
“He provided himself with the opportunities,” Ohio State coach John Markell said. “He’s on of our best players, they just didn’t go in. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t.”
The third period was an even affair with almost a full 20 minutes of up-and-down action. The two teams combined for 15 shots but could not solve Winer and Betz. Betz made nine saves in the third period to match his counterpart and keep the game knotted.
The second period saw the play open up after a Mike Warner gave the Minutemen a 1-0 lead on a power-play tip-in in the first.
Sophomore Tim Warner pitched a clean 20 minutes with seven saves. Freshman Mike Waidlich saw action for the first time since three minutes of mop-up duty against Dartmouth on Nov. 30. The Buckeyes didn’t wait long to test the green ‘tender as Daymen Bencharski scored off a rebound just 33 seconds into the period.
Waidlich kept the game tied with 11 saves until Werner restored the one-goal advantage at 15:34. Sophomore Greg Mauldin fired a wrist shot from the left wing on the power play that Werner deflected past Betz for the goal.
Umberger responded just four minutes later on a Ohio State power play. Scott May’s point shot found Umberger’s stick on the crease. The sophomore feigned a shot, dropping Waidlich and opening the shelf for the equalizer.
Ohio State carried the play in the second, outshooting UMass 14-9 after being thoroughly outplayed in the first period. The Minutemen almost gave themselves an early advantage when Thomas Pock’s one-timer clanged off of the post to Betz’s left. Moments later, Tim Turner had a pair of point-blank chances stuffed by Betz on the power play that led to Warner’s goal.
After Turner’s pair of bids, the captain slid the puck to Marvin Degon, who one-timed it in front for Warner to deflect.
With the win UMass will play in its second consecutive holiday tournament final, after falling to RPI in overtime of last season’s Rensselaer/HSBC Classic. With the loss Ohio State drops to 1-4 in the Everblades.
“I think we’ve lost every way here,” Markell said. “But you’ve got to give credit where credit is due, they played well.”