AMHERST, Mass. — Although failing to meet the targeted 8,000 in attendance Massachusetts had hoped for, the Minutemen managed to prevail in the inaugural game of their 2003-04 season, beating Connecticut 6-3.
Tim Vitek’s goal at 3:17 of the second period solidified the Minutemen’s victory. Although their play was less than spectacular and attendance didn’t hit the “Operation 8K” target, it was enough to beat a young Husky squad that lists no fewer than 15 freshmen on its roster.
Vitek was Johnny-on-the-spot when a loose rebound slid in front of him 3:37 into the second period. The junior from Dresden, Ont., collected the loose change for his first goal of the season, making it 4-1 — enough for the Minutemen (1-0) to handle the Huskies (0-1).
“We’re happy to get the season started,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “You get into these situations of trying to play a game literally nine or 10 days after you begin, and you’re not sure what you’re going to get. It’s nice to see a couple of guys like Timmy Vitek and [junior] Josh [Hanson] come in and chip in goals in game one, seeing where our goals are going to come from, it’s nice to see people finishing.
“It gets us off and running, and hopefully it gives us a sense of what we need to do to get up to speed in our own league and play successfully.”
Hanson was the top goal-scorer of the evening with two, one just under a minute before Vitek’s clincher, and another midway through the third period.
Connecticut looked impressive early, and although UMass eventually took control and momentum away from the Huskies, the young squad showed promise.
“I think we showed a lot of energy and excitement in the first ten minutes of that hockey game,” UConn coach Bruce Marshall said. “We were moving the puck pretty well, being so young we probably used a lot of energy there in the first 10 minutes, and then they kind of wore us down and we didn’t handle it well after that.”
The Minutemen, who looked nothing like the playoff-bound team of six months ago early in the game, soon gathered momentum. That process was spearheaded by a pair of nifty plays from junior Greg Mauldin and senior captain Thomas Pck, who broke the ice with a one-timer off a pass from sophomore Chris Capraro.
Pck played a quick game of catch with Capraro, and on the return, fired a low shot that hardly left the ice and beat UConn goaltender Scott Tomes five-hole to give the Minutemen a 1-0 lead with 8:03 remaining in the first.
Senior Nick Kuiper added another goal less than three minutes later, and Capraro was involved again. The Medford, Mass., native cycled all the way around the net, and dished to Kuiper on the point. Kuiper steadied the puck and snapped a shot that found its way past Tomes.
The Huskies managed to get on the board just before the end of the first period when freshman Matt Scherer waltzed out of the corner on UMass goalie Gabe Winer’s left side, and threw a shot on net that deflected past Winer to make it 2-1.
“We’re a pretty young hockey team, and I think youth was served a little bit,” Marshall said. “But there were things that I liked about our hockey team that we’re going to take some time to fine-tune.”
UConn added another score at 10:27 of the second period. Scott McDougall broke through the middle of the UMass zone, and although Winer made the initial save, McDougall persisted to cut the deficit to 4-2. However, junior Jeff Lang extended the UMass lead some 90 seconds later by maneuvering out of the corner, faking, and skating past Tomes to open up the net and make it 5-2.
Hanson added his second goal of the day at 11:41 of the third to finish off the Minutemen’s scoring.
Four minutes later, Trevor Stewart camped out in front of Winer and waited for a pass from Jarret Scarpaci, which he banged home to make it 6-3 UMass, but the Huskies would be silenced for the remainder.
Though few expected Connecticut to turn the upset, the Huskies put on a quality showing and weren’t ever too far out of it.
“When it was 4-1, 4-2, we hit a post late in the second period and that might have changed the complexion of the game right there, but we just couldn’t bang one home,” Marshall said. “I think we did have some flurries, and we weren’t hanging on as much, waiting for the game to get over — we kept competing and hopefully that will help us out.”