BOSTON — Trailing 2-1 entering the third period of Friday night’s Hockey East semifinal against fourth-seeded New Hampshire, third seed Massachusetts knew it would have to put on a show in the game’s final period to advance.
Thus, it made perfect sense to call on the Warner Brothers.
Paced by two goals from senior Mike Warner, including the game-winner with 5:28 left to play, and a 27-save performance by brother Tim Warner in the Massachusetts net, the Minutemen rallied to a 5-2 victory, advancing to the Hockey East final for the first time in program history.
UMass will meet Maine, a 1-0 winner over Boston University, in Saturday night’s championship game.
The game, and particularly the third period, was the ultimate rally for UMass. The Minutemen fell behind, 2-0, early in the second period but then deposited the game’s final five goals, four of them coming in an 11:03 span in the third period.
“I told the team to just stay with the task,” said head coach Don “Toot” Cahoon when asked what words of inspiration he used during the second intermission to spark his club. “We had a lot of hockey to play. [I told them to] make simple plays, stay within yourself, and above all believe in yourself.”
That belief translated to fourth-liner Peter Trovato starting things off, tying the game at 7:02, just minutes after killing off back-to-back New Hampshire power plays. UMass held UNH off the board six times, all told, on the power play.
With the game tied and UMass pressing the Wildcats in its own end, Mike Warner buried only his sixth goal of the season to give UMass its first lead of the night with 5:28 to play. Warner finished off the play banging home a third rebound at the left post as New Hampshire goaltender Mike Ayers (28 saves) tried desperately to hold the right post.
That goal sent the vocal UMass portion of the sold-out FleetCenter crowd (17,565) into a frenzy, overtaking the usually-louder UNH faithful. And it seemed to spur the Minutemen offense to yet another level.
Holding the late lead, UMass never let up.
The result was Thomas Pck scoring his 16th goal of the season and his 100th career point, blasting home a shot off of an in-zone faceoff to give UMass breathing room at 17:04. Sixty-one seconds later, Warner scored into an empty net for his second bucket of the night and confirmation of a seat in Saturday’s title game.
Moving back to the Warner Bros., few would have predicted three weeks ago that if UMass advanced to the championship game, those two would be the impact players.
Tim Warner had never made a start this season in net until last weekend. Once number-one goaltender Gabe Winer went down with a back injury, Warner was called upon to face Massachusetts-Lowell, which he disposed of in stellar fashion, sweeping the two-game series for UMass’ second trip to the Hockey East final four.
When Winer was cleared to play this week, Cahoon was forced with a difficult choice.
“The decision was based on Timmy handling the pressure to get himself to this position and the fact that Gabe was coming back,” said Cahoon. “Gabe had a good week, but he’s still coming back from that injury and hadn’t played in a couple of weeks.
“It just seemed logical to go with a guy who you’re comfortable about his level of fitness and readiness.”
That decision obviously paid off, none more than when Warner stopped UNH’s Sean Collins when the game was tied at two midway through the third.
“I know Sean probably just as well as I know [brother] Mike,” said the dufflebag Warner. “We grew up together and I didn’t think he was going to shot, I thought he would deke.”
The game began with New Hampshire in control. Steve Saviano got the Wildcats on the board at 13:41. His shot bounced off of Warner and into the air. As Warner fell backwards the puck trickled over his shoulder and into the net. The play needed to be reviewed as referee Conrad Hache did not see it cross the line, but replay was conclusive and the goal stood.
Early in the second, the Wildcats extended the lead. Rookie phenom Jacob Micflicker took things into his own hands, speeding down the right wing, cutting right to left in front of Warner, and tucking the puck under the sprawled goalie for the 2-0 lead.
That goal looked as if UNH was poised for a runaway. But Greg Mauldin’s goal at the midway point of the second pulled UMass within one and set up the wild third period.
UNH, the two-time defending tournament champion, fell in the semifinals for the first time since 2001. According to head coach Dick Umile, Friday’s result was exactly what his team deserved.
“You’ve got to play a 60-minute game,” said Umile. “We got outplayed in the last ten minutes, probably the whole third period. They outworked us in front of the net and in the zone. They just beat us.”
Saturday’s final will see UMass again playing to extend its season. Should the Minutemen win, they will take Hockey East’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. UMass is not in a position to get an at-large bid.
National tournament aside, a victory for these Minutemen would be almost unimaginable in terms of the impact on this state school.
“This would be a great feather for UMass’ cap,” said Cahoon. “It would be a great feather in the caps of these kids. These kids are truly great kids, so from that perspective, I would be the happiest person in the world to see those kids skate around the FleetCenter with that trophy on their shoulder.”