AMHERST, Mass. — The Massachusetts Minutemen are going back to the FleetCenter.
UMass downed Massachusetts-Lowell, 3-1, Friday night in front of 3,884 at the Mullins Center, giving it a 2-0 sweep of the River Hawks and an entry in the Hockey East semifinals. It is the second quarterfinal sweep in as many years for the Minutemen, who shocked Maine in last year’s Hockey East quarters in a series played in Orono, Maine.
Junior defenseman Dusty Demianiuk punched the Minutemen’s ticket to Boston with a low wrister that slipped through a screen and past Lowell goaltender John Yaros at 12:12 of the second period. It was Demianiuk’s first goal of the season.
And on a night when an unheralded defenseman scored the game winner, a goaltender who hadn’t started a game during the regular season, playing just over 68 minutes, starred for the second straight game. Junior Tim Warner, who was ousted by sophomore Gabe Winer last season, replaced Winer when he went down with an injury in practice on Thursday.
After equaling his career high in saves (39) on Thursday, Warner again shined in net, turning aside 22 of 23 shots. Though he didn’t have to make as many saves on Friday, he was just as solid 24 hours after becoming the de facto starter for the Minutemen.
Warner was the toast of the team after Game 2, and his teammates made sure of that in the postgame press conference.
“You sit front and center,” Demianiuk told him, shoving Warner to the middle seat.
Said junior Greg Mauldin, “We’ve got to get a permanent seat for this guy now.”
Appropriately enough, Mauldin scored the final tally, a pretty wrister from in close that came off an errant clear from Yaros, who nearly handed it to Mauldin 15 feet from the goal line. Mauldin caught the puck, dropped it to the ice, and quickly buried it over Yaros’ left shoulder to make it 3-1 Minutemen with 5:24 to go in the third.
Mauldin’s season was nearly ended on Jan. 3, when Lowell’s Jerramie Domish put a punishing hit on him, sending him to the hospital overnight and knocking him out of the lineup for five games. The two players met at center ice after the game, and exchanged a handshake.
“[Domish] said, ‘I don’t play to hurt people,’” Mauldin said. “That’s the way it goes. That sort of thing happens all the time, it’s just unfortunate that I got a concussion. But there’s no grudge.”
UMass coach Don Cahoon agreed that the Domish incident wasn’t at the forefront for the Minutemen.
“Jerramie Domish’s name never came up in that locker room all week,” Cahoon said. “That speaks volumes about the maturity on this team.”
The River Hawks, who had a promising season but were hindered by the forfeiture of five wins due to an ineligible player, finish the season 10-23-7 — 7-14-5 against Hockey East teams. After getting blown out 6-3 on Thursday night, Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald was happy with his team’s play on Friday.
“I thought it was a very evenly contested game. Our young men fought hard to the end,” he said.
“I want to congratulate [UMass'] seniors, Mike Warner, Nick Kuiper, and who’s that other guy?” MacDonald asked in jest. “Oh yeah, [defenseman Thomas] Pck.”
Pck, a Hobey Baker candidate whose chances were hurt by a quiet February, came up big in the series, especially in Game 1, where he had a goal and three assists. Friday night, Pck didn’t make the scoresheet, leaving him one point short of 100 for his career.
The Minutemen didn’t really need their superstar defenseman to step up in the game, one which was dominated by a backup goaltender and a low-scoring blueliner.
The first period played mostly even, and ended with the teams tied at one. Josh Hanson opened the scoring for the Minutemen, converting on a rebound in front of Yaros at 10:20. The River Hawks knotted it up just 32 seconds later, however, when Matt Collar finished off a similar play.
It was a chippy affair from the start, and things nearly came to a head at 7:15, when Pck was hit by a pair of River Hawks and went down hard. Cahoon was livid on the bench, complaining extensively to any available official.
The Minutemen won’t know who they will play in the semifinals on Friday until the completion of the quarterfinals this weekend. It wasn’t clear whether Winer, who had a 2.60 goals against average with a .880 save percentage in 2003-04, would return in time. But the Minutemen found out this weekend that they can be a two-goalie team.
“We’re obviously not afraid to put Timmy Warner in there right now,” Cahoon said.
MacDonald made the switch to Yaros after junior Chris Davidson gave up six goals on just 18 shots in Game 1.
“[Yaros has] played very well for us this season,” MacDonald said. “He’s had some big wins. We gave up six goals on 18 shots last night, and that’s not what we’re looking for. It was an easy decision.”