AMHERST, Mass. — Days before Friday’s home opener, Massachusetts coach Don Cahoon praised the UMass student body for its support during his team’s run to the NCAA Tournament last season.
He only wished that the high attendance figures and even higher level of play continued into the 2007-08 season. One half of Cahoon’s hope came true as 5,862 came out to Friday night’s 2-2 tie with in-state rival UMass-Lowell (0-0-1, 0-0-1 Hockey East).
The Minutemen (1-1-1, 0-0-1 Hockey East) took a 2-0 lead into the second period before UML capitalized on their host’s lack of discipline, scoring two goals with Minutemen in the penalty box.
UMass sophomore defenseman Martin Nolet went to the penalty box along with UML’s Ben Holmstrom after Nolet dropped Holmstrom for shoving a UMass player into goaltender Paul Dainton following a save on a breakaway.
With four men-excluding netminders-on the ice for each team, Chris Auger circled the UMass goal and found teammate Barry Goers open in the high slot. Goers one-timed the shot past Dainton who moved too slowly across the crease.
Goers assisted on the second UML goal, which came in a 5-on-3 situation. Maury Edwars rifled a shot over Dainton’s right shoulder after he and Goerrs slid the puck back and forth several times waiting for the right shot.
“[Goerrs] has such an enormous hockey IQ and is a great decision maker for us,” UML coach Blaise Macdonald said. “He plays with such a low heart rate and great poise out there. He’s always such a catalyst for us.”
Despite the two second period goals, Dainton performed well in his second collegiate start. He stopped 29-of-31 shots for the Minutemen, on week removed from making 31 saves in a 2-1 loss to Clarkson.
“He played well, he gave us a chance to win just like he did last week,” Cahoon said. “There are things he needs to work on and there are things we can identify to train with him on.”
Cahoon relied heavily on other freshmen as well. James Marcou and Michael Lecomte saw key ice time for the Minutemen. Marcou scored the first goal of his collegiate career at 16:26 of the first period to give UMass a 2-0 lead.
Junior Alex Berry intercepted an outlet pass in neutral ice and skated into the offensive zone. Outnumbered by defenders, he slowed and waited for a teammate. Marcou blew past the UML defense and collected the pass the backhand pass from Berry.
After approaching on his backhand, he deked to his forehand, but left the puck behind him. UML goaltender Nevin Hamilton (25 saves) bit on the fake and the puck slid in the net behind him. Marcou also assisted on UMass’ first goal of the contest, a power play tally banged home by junior Cory Quirk,
“I think [the freshmen] are good players and I think that developing them now is critical,” Cahoon said. “We’re going to need those guys as the year goes on.”
Both Cahoon and Macdonald discussed the Mullins Center ice surface, as the ice was noticeably soft. A heavy layer of fog covered the ice for a large portion of the game and made it almost impossible for either team to successfully move the puck late in the game.
“I don’t think anybody has played on ice like this, maybe in the summer,” Cahoon said. “I’ve been in lots of playoff games in the spring and I don’t remember the ice being like this.
“The puck’s not settling down for people, it’s frustrating. [UML] played on the same surface, so someone has to be able to get it done. We’ve got to learn not to look at the guy next to us, but look within.”
UMass is back in action Saturday against Connecticut, while the River Hawks are off until next weekend where they host Alabama-Huntsville for a pair of games.