LOWELL, Mass. — Massachusetts head coach Don ‘Toot’ Cahoon may have worried that his team would have a letdown after an emotion-filled win over Boston College on Friday night.
Saturday night against sister school Mass.-Lowell, the Minutemen convincingly put Cahoon’s mind at ease.
Behind a seven-point effort from Massachusetts’ top line and spectacular play on special teams, the Minutemen knocked off the River Hawks, 5-2, at Tsongas Arena, overtaking Lowell for seventh place in Hockey East.
“What a difference a weekend makes,” said Cahoon. “It’s such a battle in this league. Those were two very big wins.
“We’ve had a couple of letdowns in the past but the kids had a good mentality this weekend and they didn’t want this [feeling] to end last night.”
The Minutemen’s top line of Chris Capraro (three assists), Stephen Werner (goal, assist) and Chris Davis (goal, assist), along with third-line forward P.J. Fenton (two goals), were the offensive catalyst on the night.
Special teams played a major role in the game that featured a five-minute power play for each team along with 171 minutes in penalties to entertain the announced crowd of 2,705 that included UMass President Dr. Jack Wilson.
UMass goaltender Gabe Winer made 21 saves in the victory but finished the game in the locker room after being disqualified for fighting during a line brawl with 3:33 remaining in the game. He, along with Lowell’s Elias Godoy, who also received a disqualification for fighting, will each miss the clubs’ respective next game.
The UMass power play scored two goals on the night while the Minutemen’s penalty-killing unit kept Lowell off the board in its first five attempts, allowing just a Brad King goal at 18:41 of the third when the game’s outcome was all but decided.
“Our penalty kill has been great of late,” said Cahoon. “Our kids are starting to follow through on the things that they’re taught.
“The power play has really improved itself since Christmas time.”
The opening minute of the game put the Minutemen shorthanded, as defenseman David Leaderer was given a five-minute major and game misconduct for hitting from behind. Though Lowell pressed UMass for much of the man advantage, putting four shots on Winer, all of the chances came from the perimeter, making the saves routine.
The power play was nullified when Lowell took back-to-back penalties – Bobby Robins for roughing at 4:28 and Grant Farrell for holding at 4:48.
On the ensuing faceoff from Farrell’s penalty, UMass got on the board. A perfectly-executed faceoff play led to Marvin Degon’s one-timer beating Lowell goaltender Peter Vetri (32 saves) at 4:58, giving the Minutemen the early lead.
UMass kept the pressure on and nearly extended the lead numerous times were it not for stellar stops by Vetri. The sophomore netminder, though, looked confused on a Chris Davis shot with 1:38 to play in the frame, standing motionless as the wrist shot beat him over the left shoulder to give UMass a 2-0 advantage.
In the second, the teams traded goals. Lowell pulled within a goal at 3:09 when Bobby Robins potted his career-best 10th goal of the season. A quick pass from the right corner landed on Robins’ stick alone in front of Winer. The senior forward had plenty of time to pick his spot, hitting the right hand corner to pull the River Hawks within a goal at 2-1.
A second major penalty, this time to Lowell’s Mark Roebothan, led to the Minuteman regaining the two-goal lead. As the power play drew to a close, a failed clearing attempt by Grant Farrell resulted in UMass defenseman Mike Kostka finding himself wide open in the slot. He one-timed home a pass inside the left post for his second goal of the season and a 3-1 lead at 15:49.
In the third, UMass put the game away for all intents and purposes on Werner’s ninth goal of the season. It was after that goal that the game got chippy and culminated with fisticuffs with in the closing minutes.
A total of 118 minutes were handed out by referee John Gravallese including nine minors, eight 10-minute misconducts and two game disqualifications.
After peace was regained, King buried Lowell’s final goal of the night, beating replacement goaltender Jon Quick (three saves) at 18:41, only to have Fenton answer with an empty-net goal with 1:06 to play.
For Lowell, the loss is the club’s third in a row, this weekend’s pair coming on what has to be considered a lackluster effort at best.
“No disrespect to UMass, but we were clearly our worst enemy,” said Lowell head coach Blaise MacDonald, whose club falls to eighth place in the Hockey East standings. “The major problem is that we simply can’t clear the puck. It’s mind boggling. We have plenty of time and can’t clear it.”
A clearly upset MacDonald made no bones about the fact that his team simply didn’t have enough desire in this weekend’s losses.
“We’re getting destroyed in the loose puck battles,” MacDonald said. “It’s a physical thing and it’s simply desire. Who wants the loose puck? We didn’t show the desire.”
With the win, the Minutemen post a four-point weekend for just the second time this season. It also marks the first win for the Minutemen against its sister school in five attempts.
Both teams return to action on the road next weekend with UMass traveling to Boston University and Lowell heading to Northeastern.