AMHERST, Mass. — Saturday was a good night to be a Massachusetts freshman. The all-rookie line of Matt Burto, P.J. Fenton, and Dan Gordon started the game for the Minutemen — with freshman defenseman David Leaderer manning the blue line — and was on the ice for both goals as UMass edged Sacred Heart 2-1 in front of 2,932 at the Mullins Center.
Burto and Fenton scored the goals, with Leaderer and Fenton getting assists to guide the Minutemen to an 8-10-1 record (4-5-1 Hockey East). The Pioneers fell to 6-9-1 overall, but their 6-6-1 Atlantic Hockey record remains untouched.
“It was important for us to get something going in a positive direction, and to get back on the ice two nights after [sophomore forward] Matt Anderson’s injury,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. Anderson suffered a severe leg injury during the Minutemen’s 5-0 loss at New Hampshire, and was not in the lineup Saturday.
Although the Minutemen took the final margin, the Pioneers started off with a bang. After picking off a loose puck in the defensive zone, Andrew Billinghurst skated along the right boards, going untouched from his own blue line to UMass goaltender Gabe Winer’s crease, where he jammed the puck between Winer’s leg and the right post. The surprising goal gave Sacred Heart a 1-0 lead just 22 seconds into the game.
Just a few minutes later, though, UMass fired back with Burto’s goal, a rebound putaway off of Leaderer’s slapshot. Burto hit the twine at the 7:22 mark of the first, just eight seconds after the Pioneers’ Peter Giatrelis finished his penance for an interference call.
With Giatrelis in the box again for charging, Fenton scored the eventual game-winner, cashing in on a wrister from the slot as he fell to the ice with 4:41 to go in the period.
After a first period in which the two teams combined for 22 shots — the Minutemen held an overwhelming advantage, putting 17 shots on LaPointe’s net — the second period was less productive. The teams combined for 21 shots (13 for UMass, eight for the Pioneers), but neither could find the net.
The Pioneers did find themselves on the right end of 1:14 of 5-on-3 play with UMass’ Kevin Jarman and Dusty Demianiuk sharing time in the box for separate penalties, but couldn’t take advantage. SHU didn’t see a better opportunity the rest of the way.
“I thought our team played very well 5-on-5 against them, I thought positionally we did a good job,” Sacred Heart coach Shaun Hannah said. “We had a couple chances to score, and we had the 5-on-3 there at the end of the period, and if we score there it’s a very different game.”
The final period was similar, although the Minutemen seemed to be on the verge of increasing their lead. The closest they came was at the 10:16 mark, when Matt Burto clanged a snap shot off the post with a bit of daylight in the top corner. The goaltenders dueled the rest of the way, with LaPointe seeing — and stopping — 11 shots in the final frame, and Winer enjoying the strong defense in front of him that allowed just three attempts on his net.
The Minutemen will enjoy an 18-day respite before returning to action against Princeton on Dec. 29 in Amherst. Sacred Heart, meanwhile, takes the same break before playing an exhibition against St. Clair College on Dec. 29, and rings in the new year with a clash against Atlantic Hockey foe Holy Cross on Jan. 4.