AMHERST, Mass. — The New Hampshire Wildcats had won eight of their last nine meetings with Massachusetts, and the ninth featured late-game heroics from UNH, which earned a tough 2-2 tie in December.
For the Minutemen, it was time for a change.
UMass rode a spectacular 18-save performance in net and received goals from four different players to beat New Hampshire 4-1 in front of 6,613 at the Mullins Center Friday night.
Though the Wildcats only took 19 shots on UMass goalie Gabe Winer, many were hard or from in close, requiring the Stoughton native to play well enough to earn first-star honors. Winer was nearly perfect, but for a Justin Aikins goal with 1:11 to play.
“I thought the difference was the goaltending tonight,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “[Winer] can play goal. He has a good sense for the position, he can read plays well, and he’s not a kid who’s stopping the puck by a stroke of luck. The kid just loves stopping the puck.”
On offense, UMass was just as solid, putting constant pressure on the Wildcat defense and goaltender Jim Pietrasiak. Nick Kuiper and James Solon scored in the first period, and Garrett Summerfield and Josh Hanson added to the total in the second.
“It’s a statement,” Solon said. “It says we can beat anybody if we just play hard.”
After allowing just five shots in the first period, the Minutemen continued to outplay the Wildcats in the middle frame.
Summerfield scored his second goal of the season off a feed from Dusty Demianiuk behind the net with 7:48 to go in the second. Josh Hanson scored UMass’ fourth goal with 3:43 to go, after a long slapshot from Jeff Lang jumped off of Pietrasiak’s pads. Hanson, alone in the high slot on the rush, quickly fired into a gaping net with Pietrasiak out of position.
On the other end, the Wildcats managed to put 10 shots on Winer in the period, and the netminder stopped them all. His two finest stops of the night came with 6:13 to go, when Nathan Martz had a golden opportunity. Winer stopped Martz’s first shot, a low wrister off the leg pads, and then flashed plenty of leather on Martz’s rebound attempt with the glove.
“When the goaltender is making saves like that, we know we’re going to have to put more than  shots on him,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “Obviously I’m disappointed with the way we’re playing, especially on defense. I don’t really know what to say.”
UNH did come close at the 8:03 mark, when Sean Collins raced in through the right-wing slot. However, his shot clanged off the post behind Winer’s left shoulder, and the Minutemen cleared without any further threat.
“That changes the momentum,” UMile said. “You hit the pipe, it kind of knocks you down.”
Winer said he wasn’t too worried, even though he heard the heart-stopping sound of vulcanized rubber on iron behind him.
“I wasn’t too concerned. I knew I had the angle on him, and either I was going to stop it or it was going to miss.”
Winer’s coach wasn’t so cool about the scoring chance.
“I’m glad Gabe felt great when the puck went off the post, but that was a little close for my liking,” Cahoon said with a grin.
The Minutemen led 2-0 at the end of the first period. Kuiper got things started with a blast from the point off a faceoff that beat Pietrasiak over his right shoulder at the six-minute mark.
James Solon added another goal near the end of the period. Kevin Jarman fed Solon from behind the net, and Solon skated out to open ice 10 feet in front of the net, where he slipped the buck underneath the crouching Pietrasiak.
The Wildcats trailed on the shot chart 12-5, but came close to breaking the ice just four minutes in, when the puck trickled out to Brian Yandle at the point. Yandle had an open lane to Winer’s net, but the sophomore stopped Yandle’s shot with the glove.
With the win, the Minutemen improve to 16-5-5 overall, 12-3-2 in Hockey East, and at 26 points are just one point out of first place in the conference. New Hampshire drops to 15-10-3 overall (7-6-3 Hockey East), six points behind third-place Maine.
The teams will face off again Saturday night at UNH’s Whittemore Center in the final regular-season game between the two squads.