PROVIDENCE, R.I. — For the No. 9 Massachusetts Minutemen, Saturday night’s 3-2 road victory over Providence was an example of making the most of the situation.
A night after losing, 4-1, to No. 3 Boston College on home ice, the realization was that getting two points out of the weekend was what counted the most. So with their backs against the wall, the Minutemen knocked off Providence on Saturday night for the second time in three weeks to avoid the weekend sweep.
“That’s something that good teams do,” said Massachusetts coach Don Cahoon about his team’s ability to respond to Friday’s loss with a victory. “We’re hoping to become one of those good teams so you work like the devil to make sure you get something out of the weekend.”
UMass attained the victory by playing what many consider a perfect road game: using physical play and limiting the grade ‘A’ scoring chances for the opponent. The Minutemen held the Friars to 29 shots on the night and only six in the third period while protecting a one-goal lead.
“We were up by a goal so they needed the goal,” said senior defenseman Thomas Pck. “If we shut them out and give them as few shots as possible, we knew the [goaltender] Gabe [Winer] was going to be there for the rest of them.”
“We’ve had a lot of different groups of defenseman [this season],” said Cahoon, “but tonight we went with an older group of defensemen. That experience proved to be valuable in [the third period] because there wasn’t a lot of panic.”
Providence head coach Paul Pooley was disappointed by what he deemed an “inexcusable” effort by his club one night after they upset No. 2 New Hampshire, 7-4.
“What a difference 24 hours makes,” said Pooley. “We couldn’t have kept the game much simpler last night. Tonight we couldn’t have made the game more complicated.”
Pooley references particularly his team’s ability on Friday to choose the simple option when handling the puck. Indirect, short passes of the boards was the order of the night Friday while Saturday the Friars looked too often for the difficult pass, most notably the home run attempt looking for the breakaway.
Also frustrating for the Friars was penalties. Providence was whistled for 13 minors resulting in eight UMass power plays and a goal. Critically, though, Providence took back-to-back slashing penalties in the final two minutes of the game killing any chance at a late tally with the goaltender pulled.
“[The late penalties] were absolutely the most disheartening thing,” said Pooley. “What else can I say.”
UMass opened the scoring midway through the first period. On its third power play of the night after Providence killed an early five-on-three shorthand by keying on point man Thomas Pck, the Minutemen changed strategy. Instead of feeding Pck for the one-timer, they force-fed Marvin Degon for the one-timer that sailed over the glove of Bobby Goepfert at 9:18 for the 1-0 lead.
“I think Tommy [Pck] just read off of what he saw he saw out there,” said Cahoon. “Quite honestly I think he just took himself out of the grade ‘A’ area and [Providence] was just honoring him so much that they came off angle with him and that left the middle of the rink open to get it to [Degon] to tee it up.”
In the second, the Friars drew even with a power-play tally of their own. Jonathan Goodwin fired home a second rebound over a sprawled Winer at 4:36 to level the score at one.
But 44 seconds later UMass regained the lead, this time when third-line center James Solon turned the Friar defenseman and walked in alone on Goepfert firing a high shot blocker side for the 2-1 lead.
“We always talk about after a shift [that we score a goal] having a good shift,” said Pooley, “and we got scored on after [the goal]. You overskate and try to do too much and end up looking like you’re running around with your head cut off.”
Providence again, though, leveled the score at 6:58 as Jeff Mason’s shot deflected off Minuteman defenseman Jeff Lang’s leg and between the legs of Winer.
But before the second period ended, the Minutemen once again took the lead, when sophomore John Toffey finished off a perfect pass from linemate John Hanson on a two-on-one roofing the puck high-blocker side for the 3-2 lead through two.
“Josh Hanson made an unbelievable pass,” said Toffey. “The defenseman stayed right in the middle and I honestly don’t know how he got it through.”
From there, it was up to the UMass defense to simply shut down the Friars in the third, which they did with overwhelming success not allowing a single grade ‘A’ scoring chance in the game’s final 20.
“They clamped down,” said Pooley. “They sent one guy and they trap it up because they had four guys back. Give them a lot of credit because they played the way they had to play to win on the road.”
The win continues to improve the Minutemen’s best start in Hockey East as their record now stands at 6-2-0, 9-2-0 overall. Providence drops to 6-4-2 (2-4-0 Hockey East) on the season.
Most importantly, the win gives UMass the season series against the Friars, two games to one. That’s something Cahoon sees as key.
“Everybody looks at the big four as being Maine, New Hampshire, BU and BC,” said Cahoon. “Then there are five very respectable programs and to begin to challenge the big four you have to get to the top of those five. So it’s nice to know that this series is out of the way and if we see Providence again we know it will be fore something even more significant.”
UMass returns to action next weekend for a single game at home Friday night against No. 4 Maine. Providence will travel to Boston College on Friday night and host Maine Saturday.