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College Hockey:
Minutemen Slip Past Huskies

— After nearly two weeks off and 25 days since its last home game, Massachusetts had every reason to be rusty entering last nights game against Northeastern.

Instead, the Minutemen dispatched the Huskies, 4-2, in front of 3,449 at the Mullins Center. UMass improves to 12-7-5 overall, with an 8-5-2 Hockey East record, good for sole possession of third place heading into the weekend. Northeastern falls to 2-10-3 in the conference (ninth), with a 7-12-4 overall mark.

After UMass took a 1-0 lead during a choppy first period, the Minutemen broke the game open in the second with two goals in 32 seconds. Greg Mauldin began the fun when he took a feed from Tim Vitek in the neutral zone and skated in past the blue line, where he fired a heatseeker over Northeastern goaltender Keni Gibson’s right shoulder to make it 2-0 at 4:18.

Stephen Werner followed up at 4:50 with the eventual game winner. He camped out in front of the net to Gibson’s right, and although Gibson (14 saves) stopped Werner’s initial attempt, the rebound came right back to him and he reloaded, converting on the Minutemen’s third goal of the night. Chris Capraro earned an assist on the play.

Northeastern showed its first sign of life with 8:39 to go in the middle frame. Brian Swiniarski fired a slap shot off an Eric Ortlip pass and the puck trickled through UMass netminder Gabe Winer’s pads, cutting the hosts’ lead to 3-1.

Thomas Pck punctuated the Minutemen’s scoring with a power play tally 31 seconds into the third. After a Huskie turnover in the UMass zone, the Minutemen honed in on Gibson, with four skaters up against one NU defenseman. Pck slipped the puck to Werner, who quickly sent it back to the defenseman. From there, Pck came in on Gibson’s net, made a pretty deke past a diving defender, and roofed it over Gibson’s right shoulder.

Jon Awe scored at 11:30 of the third for NU, cutting UMass’ lead to two. A loose puck deflected off a skate to his stick, and Awe shoveled a low wrister past Winer (19 saves). The Huskies couldn’t add another, however.

Three UMass skaters — Pck, Werner, and Mauldin — notched multiple points, each with a goal and an assist. Add to that Capraro’s assist, and four of the top five UMass scorers made their marks on the night. Mauldin played his first game since leaving the Jan. 3 game against Massachusetts-Lowell after a devastating collision that sent him to the hospital.

“I was pretty excited to come back, I haven’t played in three weeks or so, and any time you’re that excited to come back and play, you’re going to play your hardest,” Mauldin said.

“It was an up-tempo game, guys were going hard, and we haven’t played at home in a while, so guys were ready to play.”

“It wasn’t pretty, it was a labor to get through it,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “Thank goodness for Greg’s return, Tommy Pck being able to make big plays, Gabe being solid in net, a skill player like Stephen Werner putting one in the net, and Nick Kuiper being I think the best defensive defenseman in the league.”

The Huskies, who have been one of the hottest teams in Hockey East since Christmas, never took any clear advantage. Coach Bruce Crowder summed things up succinctly after the game.

“Well, this is from [assistant] coach [Jamie] Rice. I asked him what to say,” Crowder said,

“‘Roses are red, violets are blue, they got four, we only got two,’” Crowder said. “For us, personally, I think it was one of our worst performances of the year, and that’s not to take anything away from UMass, I think they played extremely well. But from our better players on down, we weren’t focused, we weren’t ready to play, and that was very discouraging.”

James Solon struck gold for the Minutemen at 6:11 of the first. Mauldin took an outlet pass from Pck, streaked up the left wing boards, and fired a wrister that Gibson stopped, leaving a rebound in the slot which Solon zipped under the recovering goaltender to make it 1-0.

Saturday night, the Minutemen welcome another Hockey East squad, Merrimack, to the Mullins Center for the final contest of the three-game regular season series. Northeastern has the weekend off before playing Boston University in the opening round of the Beanpot on Monday at the FleetCenter in Boston.

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