BOSTON — Like so many stories of suspense, this Hockey East semifinal between Massachusetts and New Hampshire had a familiar ending.
Butler did it.
Freshman right wing Bobby Butler scored the biggest goal of his collegiate career, grabbing a UMass turnover and flipping a shot past Minuteman goalie Jon Quick to give the Wildcats a 3-2 double-overtime win and a berth in Saturday’s championship game.
On the fateful play, Minuteman defenseman Justin Braun carried it out from behind the net and slipped it just a few feet up toward centerman Brett Watson. Wildcat winger Greg Collins smacked Watson’s stick with his, and the puck caromed to Butler all alone in front of the goalie.
“It popped out, and I couldn’t really get everything on it. I put out my stick and just chipped at it, and it popped in the net,” Butler said. “It was unreal.”
Kevin Regan made 44 saves for the Wildcats, while Quick stopped 38 saves in a losing effort. Greg Collins notched a goal and an assist for UNH; Alex Berry and Chris Capraro scored for the Minutemen.
“Obviously it was a terrific college hockey game,” Wildcat coach Dick Umile. “It was back and forth, and both goalies played tremendous. As a coach, you just try to stay out of it and let the players play. Both teams played extremely well.”
“I don’t think anybody was disappointed with the intensity and the quality of the play,” UMass coach Don ‘Toot’ Cahoon said. “Both teams went toe to toe and had lots of scoring chances, lots of opportunities to break it open. I congratulate UNH on finding a way to score the big goal. I’m real proud of our guys, the way they competed, the way they executed. Hopefully they get a chance to continue to play in the future.”
UNH had the game’s first four shots, but nothing threatening until the Wildcats struck suddenly for the game’s first goal at 3:29. Greg Collins got the puck in the left-wing faceoff circle and drove to the net for the shot. Quick made the save, but Collins beat everyone to the rebound and tucked it around the fallen goalie.
Five minutes later, UMass had a good bid. Sophomore centerman Cory Quirk got the puck in the slot and patiently held it, looking for an opening amidst traffic in front of the net. Ultimately he fired it into Regan’s belly. Regan lost track of the rebound, but referee Tim Benedetto blew the quick whistle with the puck still loose.
UNH had the upper hand for much of the rest of the period. Quick was down but smothered a Trevor Smith crossing pass at 9:30 , and then Matt Fornataro deftly stickhandled through traffic for the Wildcats to set up Smith shortly thereafter. The puck caught the outside of the post.
Just when it looked like the Minutemen would not amass much offense, they abruptly tied it. Defenseman David Leaderer kept the puck in the UNH zone, blindly flipping a backhander toward the right-wing boards. Alex Berry skated toward it and wheeled and fired in one motion, surprising Regan with a shot that bounced through his five-hole.
Just 16 seconds into the second stanza, UMass stunned UNH again. Behind the Wildcat net, Quirk flipped the puck to Chris Capraro in the slot. Showing poise, Capraro held it and held it, forcing Regan to go down before throwing a high wrister into the net for the 2-1 lead.
“Cory Quirk made a great play,” Capraro said. “He gave a look over his shoulder and threw it out on the backhand … I saw [Regan] come out, so I just tried to hold it, and it worked out.”
A minute later, UNH caught the outside of another post when Smith set up Jerry Pollastrone with a pass off a quick two-on-one. The game settled down for a spell, and then UMass had a good looking power play result in a Matt Anderson shot that went just wide.
UMass stepped up again at 11:30, when fourth-liner Scott Crowder had a good chance turn into an excellent one when Regan fumbled the rebound before the puck got cleared.
Things seemed to be going the right way for Cahoon’s troops, but then UNH tied it at 13:57 , thanks to their fourth line. Shawn Vinz’s shot initial shot was blocked, but left wing Danny Rossman collected the rebound, and took a long look before burying an 18-footer past the screened goalie. It was an opportune time for the freshman’s first collegiate goal. The teams went into the third period at 2-2 and with shots also even at 20-20.
The third period was generally a cautious one. Off a two-on-one at 5:27, Fornataro took a shot, but Quick squeezed it. For the most part, though, the teams struggled to get opportunities. The best one came with just 45 seconds left in the period. Set up by a pass from behind the net, freshman Brett Watson crashed the net for a great bid, shooting as he was tripped by a Wildcat defender. Regan stopped it, and the teams moved on to OT.
UNH almost caught an unbelievable break 30 seconds into the fourth period. An innocuous shot by Jacob Micflikier hit a UMass d-man’s leg, changed direction, and almost caught the corner.
Beyond a non-call by Benedetto on a UNH boarding penalty at 7:00, no serious threats were mounted until the midway point of the period. Then it got very interesting. Mike Radja had a good bid on a rebound, then Micflikier had a clear shot on a two-on-one, only to have Quick make the save.
A minute later, Will Ortiz had an electrifying breakaway for UMass, but Regan stoned him. UMass took control of the momentum with Matt Anderson having a couple of chances, and then Capraro almost got the golden goal at 17:50, only to have Regan stop his wrister with either the blocker or the shaft of his stick.
“Nothing was going through my head, really — just trying to make that save,” Regan said. “We did a good job backchecking on the play, and I saw him slow down a little bit. Right then I was thinking shot; I just tried to stay aggressive and get big. He had a pretty good shot, but it hit me.”
“He’s been the backbone of our team all season,” Umile said of his netminder. “He made a couple of huge saves tonight, and that’s what he’s done all season. He’s been very consistent … With him in the net, we can play with a lot of confidence.
UNH (25-9-2) faces the winner of the BU-BC semifinal at 7 p.m. on Saturday, while UMass (20-11-5) must cross its fingers and hope that the weekend’s action results in an NCAA tournament berth.
“Well, I don’t know,” Cahoon said of his team’s prospects. There’s always the unexpected. Quinnipiac won a game tonight, and if they win their tournament, and Wisconsin wins their tournament, then obviously it reduces the odds. If everything breaks with the seeded teams winning out, then we’re in pretty good shape.”