AMHERST, Mass. — Preston Callander has a knack for finding a way to beat Massachusetts.
With less than two minutes to go in Thursday night’s game, the New Hampshire junior forward skated deep into the UMass zone and fired a centering pass towards goaltender Gabe Winer’s crease. The puck deflected off of Winer’s skate and in, tying the game at two with 1:18 left in regulation.
Neither team could break the ice after that, and they settled for a 2-2 draw in front of 4,341 at the Mullins Center. It was the third tie against a Hockey East opponent for both teams.
No. 8 UMass now sits at 9-3-3 overall and 5-2-2 in Hockey East play, while No. 5 UNH moves to 10-4-2 overall and holds a 5-2-2 record against conference foes.
Callander’s fluky goal nullified the work of UMass sophomore Marvin Degon, who gave the Minutemen a 2-1 advantage late in the second period. Degon found a chink in UNH goaltender Mike Ayers’ armor 49 seconds into the third period, as he fired a wrist shot from the right wing faceoff dot and the puck deflected off of Ayers’ arm and in.
“It’s especially frustrating, because we had them with one minute to go,” Degon said.
Despite the four combined goals allowed, the game’s netminders were the showcase. For UMass, Gabe Winer stopped 23 shots, but many of the saves came on quality scoring chances. UNH’s ever-steady Ayers turned away 31 shots, including a couple of highlight-worthy stops.
“It’s always fun when it’s a goaltenders’ game. It’s just one of those games you enjoy playing, not like [Boston University], which is always a bloodbath,” said Ayers.
UNH won’t face the Terriers, whom Ayers shut out on Nov. 7 in a 4-0 victory, until March 4 and 6, the last weekend of the season.
After a first period full of chances but no capitalization, the Minutemen finally put things together late in the second period. Thomas Pck took a feed from James Solon with Wildcat Justin Aikins in the box on a roughing call and ripped a wrist shot past Ayers on the glove side to knot the score at one with 1:43 to go in the middle frame.
Prior to Pck’s tally, there wasn’t any scoring in the second period, but there was plenty of action. The chippy play that began in the first period continued, and a total of 14 penalties had been called by the end of the second. Ayers became the center of the action when Kevin Jarman tried to convert on a Chris Capraro pass. The shot popped in the air off of Ayers, and the steady netminder, falling to his backside, reached up and slapped the puck out of midair with his paddle, saving a near-certain goal.
“We didn’t expect [Ayers] to be anything but very good,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said.
Winer said he stepped his game up because of the man in the opposite net as well.
“Mike Ayers is a great goalie, and any time you get the chance to prove yourself against him, it’s a great opportunity,” Winer said.
UNH opened up the scoring after a slew of penalties in the first period. With UMass’ Stephen Jacobs and Wildcat Patrick Foley serving matching minor penalties for roughing, Matt Fetzer joined Jacobs in the box for holding the stick at 12:07. However, just as Fetzer got comfortable, Brian Yandle took a feed from Justin Aikins at the point and blasted it over Winer’s shoulder and in off the crossbar to make it 1-0 UNH.
UMass gave the visitors a scare of their own, when Stephen Werner found Kevin Jarman emerging from the left wing and fed him just outside the UNH zone. Jarman took off alone on Ayers, but the senior from Hingham made a stellar glove save to keep the hosts off the board.
After the game, UNH coach Dick Umile had nothing but kind words for the Top 10 Minutemen.
“Some of my players just said to me, ‘A lot’s happened here in the last four years.’”
Saturday, the Minutemen will travel to Cambridge, Mass. to play Harvard at the Bright Center, while the Wildcats return home to face Merrimack.