DURHAM, N.H. — Jerry Pollastrone and Matt Fornataro both recorded their first career hat tricks, leading New Hampshire to a Hockey East quarterfinal sweep of Massachusetts, 7-2.
UMass had given the top-seeded Wildcats a run for their money in the series opener, but this one was over by the midway point. They scored twice on an early five-minute major. UMass pulled to within one on a power-play goal to end the first period, but UNH put four past goaltenders Paul Dainton and Dan Meyers in the second to end the series.
The Wildcats now advance to the TD Banknorth Garden, where they will play the lowest remaining seed on Friday night. Number four seed Boston College also advanced with a sweep over Providence, but the other two series have gone to a third game. Boston University and Massachusetts-Lowell as well as Vermont and Notheastern play on Sunday to see whose season ends and whose continues in the Hockey East semifinals.
“It’s nice to get it done in two,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “I’m excited. We’re going to Boston. That’s always special.”
Umile praised both Pollastrone and Fornataro as consummate team players.
“Jerry does a lot of things for us,” Umile says. “He kills penalties. He’s a great guy in the locker room. Sometimes the puck doesn’t bounce for him, so it was good that it went in for him tonight.
“Matt’s been a very, very good leader for us. He’s led this team since day one. It was nice to see it happen for him.”
The two were in a jovial mood after the game. Fornataro, the team captain and Hockey East’s number two overall scorer, sported a distinctive white hat.
“I might have to keep wearing it,” he said. “I don’t think I had [a hat trick] in juniors either so it would have [last] been in Bantam hockey, so it felt pretty good.”
Pollastrone, who recorded five goals in the two-game set after an 11-game drought, had competition from teammate James vanRiemsdyk on the rebound that completed the hat trick.
“I think it was actually going in so I stopped it and put it in,” Pollastrone quipped. “I wanted that one.”
For UMass, the loss spelled the end of a season that included its highest ever national ranking, fifth, on Jan. 1, after which little went right. On this night, Dainton struggled, a disappointing surprise considering his emergence. UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon said that while he wasn’t blaming the freshman, the Minutemen needed better to beat the No. 5 Wildcats.
“I was really pleased with the way our guys skated,” he said. “You’re not going to shut UNH down totally. They’re going to get their chances.
“That’s why I’ve talked about the goaltending openly. I’m really happy with Paul Dainton. He’s had a terrific freshman year and I think he’s going to have a great career. I think tonight, he was a little bit short of himself and you’re not going to be able to play a team like this in their rink getting that type of a performance out of a key individual.”
Special teams dominated the first period. Scott Crowder’s major penalty and game misconduct for hitting from behind came at 7:01. UNH wasted no time taking advantage. Pollastrone threaded a shot from the right faceoff circle that beat Dainton. A mere 21 seconds later, Danny Dries fed Fornataro in front and the senior sniper roofed it far side into the right corner.
With 3:42 still remaining on the major, it looked like lights out for the Minutemen, especially when the Wildcats kept generating great scoring chances. They couldn’t convert, however, and with less than a minute left on the advantage, a turnover near the blue line led to a Michael Lecomte breakaway. Lecomte deked, but Kevin Regan made the pad save.
Soon, the penalty shoe was on the other foot with back-to-back UNH infractions leading to a 1:44 UMass five-on-three advantage. Alexander Berry buried a feed from Cory Quirk off a P.J. Fenton slap shot from the point. The Minutemen were very much back in the game, trailing by only a goal and with 1:09 still on the power play. Though Chris Davis got off a shot from the slot as the advantage expired, however, UMass would never get closer.
Just 53 seconds into the second, the Minutemen appeared to have scored, but there was no video replay. UNH proceeded to score three times in the next nine minutes.
At 4:16, Dries spun and fired from the right faceoff dot, beating Dainton on a shot into the upper far side corner.
Fornataro then beat a UMass defenseman trying to pinch and broke up the right side. As he crossed over the offensive blue line and a defender converged, Fornataro fired a slap shot. Dainton stopped it, but it trickled through his pads and over the line.
Cahoon then pulled Dainton for Meyers, but the bleeding did not stop.
While four-on-four, Pollastrone broke up ice, fired from the right faceoff circle and though Meyes made the stop, Pollastrone swatted in his own rebound.
If the 5-1 lead didn’t constitute lights out, Pollastrone’s completion of the hat trick at 15:19 did. Bobby Butler cut left to right, shot from the slot, and when Meyers fumbled the rebound, James vanRiemsdyk and Pollastrone swatted at the rebound with Pollastrone putting it in.
In the third, David Leaderer’s power-play goal on a shot from the left point made it 6-2. Fornataro completed his hat trick with 2:53 remaining while shorthanded.