AMHERST, Mass. — Gabe Winer made 20 saves and Marvin Degon figured into all three Massachusetts goals as the Minutemen blanked Vermont 3-0 in front of 2,897 at Mullins Center Friday.
The opportunistic Minutemen capitalized on their chances, scoring two power- play goals on a usually stingy, but recently sputtering, UVM penalty kill unit. The win moves UMass (12-17-0, 9-13-0 Hockey East) within striking distance of the Catamounts (17-10-4, 9-9-4) for sixth place in the league standings.
“I guess hockey games come in all different shapes and sizes, and tonight was one of those games,” said UMass head coach Don Cahoon. “If you were to look at these two teams, the way they can skate, and say at the end of two periods, we’d have five shots on net and they would have nine, I was in disbelief.
“At the same time, I knew we were getting some looks. We had missed the net a few times, so it was a little bit better than that. But it was really hard to generate offense so the game came down to special teams — the PK was terrific and the power play was very good. So that’s how the game was decided. I think that Gabe’s stellar play in the net was all the difference in the world.
The teams skated to a scoreless period. Vermont controlled the majority of the play in the first and had the better of the offensive chances in the period despite not finding the back of the net. Winer made a couple of his seven saves in the period on the second of two Vermont power plays in the latter half of the period. The Cats held the puck in the Minuteman end for much of the man advantage, applying pressure. But Winer came up big to keep it scoreless going into the second.
The Minutemen got on the board at the 4:01 mark of the middle frame. Freshman Cory Quirk tallied his eighth on the power play, assisted by Matt Anderson and Marvin Degon. Quirk finished the play, getting the cross-ice feed from Anderson and fired it into the open side of the net past a diving Joe Fallon (11 saves) for the 1-0 advantage.
The Cats had their best shot of the period to knot the game on a two-on-one with 4:40 left in the period. Senior assistant captain Joey Gasparini took the shot, but the lone UMass defender back negated the play, blocking the shot as the hosts carried the lead to the third.
UMass doubled its lead five minutes into the third. Degon struck a hard slap shot from the center point that eluded Fallon. It was the second power-play goal of the night for the Minutemen against a penalty kill unit that was ranked fourth nationally (90 percent) coming into the game.
“(We are) struggling a little bit from the net out,” Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “We’ve given up a lot of shots clean that have gone in from the point. We haven’t been very good on the shooting lanes, that’s at least three or four (goals on the penalty kill recently.) We’re a shot blocking team. We’ve lost that and I don’t know why.”
From that point, Winer remained steady in net as he nailed down the shutout with eight saves over the final period.
Vermont called its timeout with 3:10 to go and pulled Fallon for the extra skater, but to no avail as Stephen Werner found the empty net to seal the win.
Sneddon was quick to complement the Minutemen but was frustrated with the play of his charges.
“I thought UMass played a great game,” he said. “I thought they did a heck of a job of really keeping our forwards to the outside tonight. Through neutral we couldn’t generate a lot. As a result, we ended up dumping the puck a lot. I just thought they played a really smart game against us. I don’t know if that’s how they approach every team in this league, but I thought they really took away our ability to create anything tonight.
“We’re really disappointed in our squad. I thought we had one line play tonight that played with a lot of passion and that was our role players. I thought the other lines and most of our defensemen were just very average and did not show a lot of energy or passion which is really disappointing this time of year.”
The teams meet to close out the season series Saturday at 7 p.m.