AMHERST, Mass. — A day after scoring the easiest four points of its season, Massachusetts followed up with another two, downing Merrimack 3-1 at the Mullins Center Saturday night.
Thomas Pck scored the game winner late in the second period, and Marvin Degon — fresh off a short absence due to a coach’s decision — added two assists, as the Minutemen (15-5-5, 11-3-2 HEA) solidified their grip on second place in Hockey East.
Merrimack falls to 9-16-3 overall, and 4-11-3 in Hockey East, which leaves the Warriors in a tie for fifth place with Massachusetts-Lowell, whose recent forfeit of five wins gave both UMass and Merrimack a boost.
The Warriors gained two points from what had been an overtime loss to Lowell on Jan. 16, and the Minutemen earned four points after losing both games of a home-and-home series in early January.
Pck gave the Minutemen a lead late in the second, one which they never relinquished. Mike Warner took a shot on Merrimack goaltender Jim Healey (20 saves), and the rebound trickled dangerously back out to the slot. Pck, creeping in from the point, slipped the rebound inside the near post, making it 2-1 UMass with 52 seconds left in the middle frame. It was Pck’s 14th goal of the season, and his 32nd point.
“Maybe if we get out of the second period [with a tie], it would be better than chasing a goal [in the third],” Merrimack coach Chris Serino said. “That had a big effect, not only giving it up, but the way we gave it up. If there’s one guy you don’t leave open on the PK, it’s Pck. That was just a mental breakdown.”
Tim Vitek opened up the scoring for UMass, converting on a Josh Hanson rebound at 10:41 of the second for his fourth goal of the year. Hanson attempted a wraparound from behind the net with Mike Alexiou serving a Merrimack too-many-men penalty, but was stopped. The puck bounced out to Vitek, sitting just outside the crease, and he popped it back in.
The Warriors responded two minutes later with a power-play goal of their own. Eric Pedersen took a slapshot from the point, and Steve Crusco, camped comfortably in front of UMass goaltender Gabe Winer’s net, tipped it past to knot the score at 1.
The Minutemen’s third goal came from an unlikely source. Stephen Jacobs, staked firmly in front of Healey, tipped a Marvin Degon wrister from the point, scoring his first goal of the year, and his second in a UMass uniform. It also gave Degon his second assist of the night.
“I thought Marvin played pretty well tonight,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “He was a little rusty, but tonight was one of those hard games. This sport is a grind.”
The first period began slowly, and ended anything but. Neither team cracked the scoreboard, but starting around the eight-minute mark, the Minutemen began to find the net, peppering Healey with quality shots.
UMass was inches away from putting a goal up on the visitors twice in the period. With 6:43 to go, Marvin Degon took a pretty pass in the slot, and fired a wrister that trickled through Healey, but was swept clear by Bryan Schmidt just before crossing the goal line.
Four minutes later, a UMass dump took a tricky bounce off the corner boards, and caromed off the net as Healey looked the other way. Josh Hanson got a stick on the loose puck, but Healey recovered to make the save.
The Warriors responded late in the opening stretch. Things got heated at the buzzer, and UMass’ Stephen Jacobs was sent off for hitting after the whistle after tussling with Tim Reidy.
Winer was solid, but didn’t get much exercise, as the Warriors only put 14 shots on him.
“I think Gabe has developed a good mindset for these stretches,” Cahoon said.
“For two periods, it really was a one-sided game,” Serino said. “We didn’t get much going, and they played very well.”
Merrimack is off until Thursday, when it hosts Boston College (19-3-3, 12-1-2). UMass will entertain New Hampshire (15-9-3, 7-5-3) on Friday, in the first of a two-game home-and-home set.