AMHERST, Mass. — A night after playing well, yet coming up on the short end of a 4-3 overtime decision, New Hampshire regrouped and put forth another solid effort to post a 4-2 victory over Massachusetts on Saturday evening.
Wildcats’ senior Bobby Butler had two goals, including what proved to be the game-winner at 13:47 of the second period, while goaltender Brian Foster made 33 saves in the win.
Combined with a tally in the third period of Friday’s affair, Butler finished the weekend with three goals to up his league-leading total to nine. For his career against the Minutemen, Butler has a team-best 13 points on nine goals and four assists over 14 appearances.
“I told the team that I was proud of how hard they played all weekend,” stated UNH coach Dick Umile afterwards. “We played good, solid two-way hockey all weekend. It was a great win for us.”
“I’m pretty impressed with how hard New Hampshire played all weekend,” commented Don ‘Toot’ Cahoon of Massachusetts. “I thought our team played a little bit better than they did last night. The problem is, we gave up a couple of goals that were bad positional play on our part. You can’t give up a couple of goals against a team that’s playing as hard and as desperate as they were, along with their good goaltending.”
New Hampshire started strong and almost scored less than one minute into the first period. Peter LeBlanc blistered a shot from the slot that looked destined for the back of the net, but a terrific glove save by UMass goaltender Paul Dainton kept the Wildcats off the scoreboard momentarily.
Butler netted the game’s first goal at 16:29. Stationed at the top of the right faceoff circle, Paul Thompson dished the puck between his legs to Butler as he skated toward the slot. Butler evaded traffic and headed for the far post, slipping the puck past Dainton to make it 1-0 Wildcats.
The second stanza saw an offensive outburst, as both teams scored two goals each.
Massachusetts forward Will Ortiz played well in the opening moments of the period and was rewarded with his third goal of the season at 4:37. Ortiz collected a loose puck between the dots and wristed it past Brian Foster cleanly.
New Hampshire quickly dashed the Minutemen’s hopes of gaining momentum in the contest. With an advantage in numbers around the cage, LeBlanc scored after skating in from the right corner at 5:21.
“That goal that we got right away was key, to bounce right back like that,” said Umile. “We’ve had some good character games already on this team early this season. They come back, they play hard, and they never quit. These guys have played as hard as I’ve had in a couple of years. I’m pleased with the way they have competed.”
Butler put home a rebound attempt through traffic from the left side of the ice at 13:47 to increase the Wildcats’ lead to 3-1.
Umile noted his pleasure in Butler’s performance as of late.
“Bobby is playing extremely well for us right now; he’s one of our captains and he’s playing and leading by example.”
The UMass power play finally got a chance to go to work late in the second after a UNH mental breakdown led to a too many men call. Although the man-advantage was short-lived when Casey Wellman was whistled for slashing moments later, the Minutemen were able to score on the ensuing four-on-four opportunity.
Martin Nolet cut the deficit to one at 18:25 with a blast from the point. James Marcou had the puck along the right side dasher and sent it to Nolet, who was all alone at the blue line.
The tally proved to be the final one of the period, as the Wildcats skated into intermission with a 3-2 lead. Foster saw a lot of rubber during the frame, tying a career-high for stops in a single period with 18. UMass outshot UNH 20-4 over the 20 minutes.
“They had the best of us in the second period; they outshot us quite a bit,” noted Umile. “We held on and we played a good third period with a 3-2 lead.
“I know last night, the winning goal was a tough one for [Foster]. I still have confidence in him. He’s our guy, we’re going to stick with him, and tonight he played solid.”
“I was a little disappointed because we worked our tail off in the second period and we had nothing to show for it; we ended up with a tie,” said Cahoon on his team’s second period performance.
“It’s hard to measure how much energy we must have expended. We thought we were working over their defensemen with our speed and getting to pucks, and we thought it would have an effect in the third period but I’m not so sure it didn’t tire our own guys out.”
The Minutemen had a prime opportunity to tie the contest at three at 6:30 into the third. All alone in front of the net, Brett Watson tried to make Foster commit, but the senior netminder stuck with the puck and made a terrific save to keep it 3-2 in favor of New Hampshire.
The Wildcats pushed their lead back to two goals at 11:59 when LeBlanc hooked up with Mike Sislo for a highlight-reel goal. LeBlanc skated into the offensive zone with the puck along the left side boards while Sislo drove to the far post. LeBlanc’s pass across the ice was true, as all Sislo had to do was tap it into the net.
“Peter made a nice play on that goal; it was a huge goal for us,” remarked Umile on the performance of LeBlanc. “Ending the game with a one goal lead could have been tough, so having that two-goal margin was key for us.”
Massachusetts pulled Dainton (14 saves) in favor of an extra attacker late in the contest, but could not recreate last night’s comeback victory. Very few penalties were called for the second night in a row, as both teams were unable to capitalize on their shortened power-play opportunities. The game was a quick one, taking only two hours and five minutes to complete.
New Hampshire (3-6-2, 3-2-1 Hockey East) will face Boston University in a home-and-home series beginning next Friday at the Whittemore Center, while Massachusetts (7-2-0, 4-2-0 Hockey East) returns to the ice on Thursday at Yale in non-conference action.