LOWELL, Mass. — For 40 minutes, the Massachusetts Minutemen and the Mass.-Lowell River Hawks were in a back-and-forth battle in front of 4,801 fans at Tsongas Arena. Entering the third period tied at two, back-to-back goals by the Minutemen to open the third stanza proved to be the knockout punch, as they defeated the River Hawks 4-3.
“Obviously, getting the lead and playing with the lead most of the night was a positive for us; we haven’t done a lot of that,” said Massachusetts coach Don ‘Toot’ Cahoon, whose team never trailed on Saturday night. “We got good goaltending from [Paul] Dainton which gave us a little bit of a break, and we got some stellar performances from a couple of defensemen, none less than Justin Braun.”
It was Braun’s short-handed goal at 5:33 in the third that put Massachusetts up 3-2, a lead they never relinquished. It was Will Ortiz’s goal three minutes later at 8:30 that proved to be the game-winner.
“It was difficult for us to be constantly playing from behind,” said Mass.-Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald. “I give UMass credit; they played hard all night, they capitalized on a lot of loose puck battles, and I thought their goalie played really strong. We were in tight on him and we had a hard time getting by him.”
Massachusetts scored the first goal of the night at 12:26 in the first period. A weak shot off the stick of Alex Berry from behind the left circle squeaked through traffic and got past goaltender Nevin Hamilton for the score.
Ben Holmstrom tied the game for the River Hawks at 8:17 in the second period when he redirected a Paul Worthington shot past Dainton. Worthington shot the puck from the right point and Holmstrom tipped it in from Dainton’s left side.
The Minutemen took back the lead 2-1 at 13:33 in the period when Chase Langeraap scored from the slot off of a face-off in the River Hawks’ zone.
Still battling from behind, the River Hawks tied the game again with just 26 seconds left to play in the period. Worthington took the puck behind the net and got it out to Kory Falite at Daintons left side where he tallied the goal to tie the game at two.
“Once we got it to 2-2 late in the second period I thought, ‘Well okay, let’s get out there in the third and get going,” said MacDonald. “Then to give up a short-handed goal was just, I don’t know how that happened.”
After Ortiz’s goal at 8:30, the River Hawks answered quickly with a goal at 8:54. Nick Monroe went streaking up the left side of the ice and got it to Maury Edwards in the slot, who rifled it past Dainton.
The River Hawks applied pressure as they emptied their net in the game’s final minutes, but to no avail.
Next weekend, the River Hawks (9-12-0, 6-8-0 HE) will take on Merrimack in a home-and-home series, while the Minutemen (10-10-2, 5-6-2 HE) find themselves in Vermont for a two game series.