AMHERST, Mass. — The game included one rarity after another. It began with Massachusetts hosting only its second Hockey East quarterfinal and Maine on the road for the first time since 1998. It then added a shorthanded three-on-one, a penalty shot and a goal despite a dislodged net.
At game’s end, UMass took the lead in the best-of-three series with a 3-2 win thanks primarily to reigning Hockey East Player of the Week, goaltender Jon Quick, who made 38 saves while allowing goals only on two deflections.
“We dodged a bullet in a big way,” UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon said. “Jon Quick was immense. He gave us a chance to win.
“We got some good individual plays that gave us a chance to score a few goals, but we didn’t play nearly intelligent enough nor with nearly enough consistency to beat that team very often.
“It was a disjointed effort on our part to win a game, but we’ll take the win.”
The margin of victory was provided by a controversial third-period goal, one which came after the net had been dislodged. With the score tied, 1-1, Cory Quirk raced through center ice and dished to Alex Berry, who was cutting left to right. Maine goaltender Dave Wilson dislodged the net with his leg, perhaps accidentally, after which Berry made his move and stuffed the puck past Wilson.
Until a rule change in recent years, a referee could not have allowed the goal, no matter how egregious the dislodging. However, the rulebook was amended to indicate that in the case of “an act which prevents an obvious and imminent goal, the goal shall be awarded.”
Arguably, with Berry still making his move, the “obvious and imminent” threshold was not met, but referee Conrad Hache allowed the goal. Maine coach Tim Whitehead spoke graciously about the call after the game despite his obvious disappointment with the result.
“Conrad did a great job tonight,” Whitehead said. “I don’t know if it was the correct call, but what’s most important for college hockey right now is to get a two-two system [two referees and two linesmen] and video replay. The WCHA has it and I see no reason why Hockey East can’t have it, at least for the playoffs.”
Berry, for his part, had no doubts.
“I didn’t even realize the net was off until after,” Berry said. “I thought it was a non-issue. I knew I had the goal.”
The 2-1 margin became 3-1 after UMass killed the second of two slashing penalties and then used the man coming out of the box for an odd-man rush. From the left, Will Ortiz fed sophomore defenseman John Wessbecker on the weak-side post for his first collegiate goal.
Unfortunately for the Minutemen, however, they then took a roughing after the whistle penalty, giving Maine’s power play, tops in the nation with a 25.4 percent conversion rate, a third straight chance. Quick foiled a Brent Shepheard breakaway, but the senior got one past Quick over a minute later on a deflection of a Mike Lundin shot from the point.
With the score 3-2, Maine could not get the equalizer past Quick.
The two teams play the second game of the series on Saturday night and, if necessary, will play the rubber game on Sunday.
“We’re going to be trying to close the deal and they’re going to be trying to stretch this thing out another day,” Cahoon said. “It ought to be a heckuva game.”
Arguably, the series matched experience against momentum. Maine (21-13-2, 14-12-1 HEA) held an all-time 35-8-5 record over Massachusetts (19-11-5, 15-9-3 HEA). The Minutemen, however, had just put the quarterfinals into its own barn by sweeping the Black Bears the previous weekend. That feat had extended the UMass winning streak to four and gave the Minutemen a 5-1-1 record over its last seven. By contrast, Maine was only two games over .500 since Jan. 1.
Cahoon, however, dismissed the momentum factor. “Last week had nothing to do with tonight. Zero.”
In the first period, Maine outshot UMass, 15-11, and got the lone goal, but had to survive a penalty shot to hold a 1-0 lead.
Little more than two minutes into the game, UMass went on the power play. Maine penalty killers, however, denied the zone effectively for a long stretch and then got a great opportunity when the penalty ended. Keith Johnson, Shepheard and Mike Hamilton broke three-on-one, but Quick made the stop on Johnson’s shot.
Midway through the period, UMass’ Chris Capraro muscled his way into a good shot from the slot that Wilson saved. Back at the other end, Quick made a nice save on a Brett Tyler shot from the slot and then an outstanding, sprawling save on Tyler’s attempt to roof the rebound.
Maine went on its first power play at 12:36 and took just 46 seconds to capitalize. Josh Soares moved at the point from right to left and then found Billy Ryan alone on the right post. Ryan only had to deflect the puck high into the open net for the score.
On the Black Bears’ next power play, however, it would be UMass that created a great chance. Chris David split the Maine defense and raced off on a breakaway. When he was taken down, Hache signaled a penalty shot. As the entire crowd stood, Davis made a nice deke only to be foiled by Wilson’s pad save on the stuff attempt.
The offensive chances weren’t quite as numerous in the second period, but UMass still tied the game with a power-play goal of its own at the seven-minute mark. Wilson made several stops, but Kevin Jarman kept at it and from behind the net banked the puck off Wilson’s back and in.
The Minutemen might well have then taken the lead, but couldn’t convert that rarest of opportunities, the shorthanded three-on-one.
All of which set up the decisive third period, one in which Maine outshot UMass, 17-4, but was still outscored, 2-1.