After being held scoreless the night prior, a pent-up offensive outburst from Massachusetts sent the Minutemen past Northeastern 6-3 on Saturday night.
It was only the ninth time in 43 tries that UMass had emerged victorious at Matthews Arena and handed the Huskies their fourth loss in the last five games.
For UMass, the weekend split was the fruition of weeks of steady improvement and allowed them to leap frog up to sixth place in the Hockey East standings.
“Excited about the weekend, really,” UMass coach John Micheletto said after the game. “In 120 minutes of hockey, our guys were very good, stuck to, for the most part, who we are and what we do. [After] a little scramble, we were able to reel it back in, I thought.”
The Minutemen used lessons learned from Friday’s game to regroup and write a new ending to a tight game in which Northeastern also took a 1-0 lead.
But the strategy was not just to pepper Huskies’ goalie Chris Rawlings (40 saves), it was to force rebounds and get a second look to net.
With just 40 seconds remaining in the first period and the score tied 1-1, Joel Hanley fired a shot from the blue line, forcing a rebound and leaving K.J. Tiefenworth to chip the puck into the net for his first career goal.
“We were saying all through the week – just put shots shots on this guy and they’re going to go in eventually,” UMass forward Rocco Carzo said. “We got more secondary shots tonight, we got shots and then we’d crash the net. Last night, we were able to get shots on net, but it would be right to his chest, right to his glove.”
After a relatively even opening 40 minutes, the balance of the game was up for grabs in the third period with the Minutemen leading 3-2, but the Huskies on the attack.
Fortunately for the Minutemen, their persistence attacking the net paid off, leading to the strike that threw momentum in their favor for the remainder of the game.
Pinned deep in his own zone, Huskies’ defenseman Drew Ellement was slammed into the corner boards from behind, but no penalty was whistled, leaving the Northeastern bench clamoring for a boarding call.
At the same time, Adam Phillips was left alone with the puck in the middle of the slot. Phillips made three jukes with the puck, jabbing it past Rawlings on his forehand and giving UMass the decisive blow in the game, extending the lead to 5-2 at 6:54 into the third. The juxtaposition of UMass celebrating around Phillips with Element staggering back to the bench (it was later revealed that he was concussed by the hit) hinted at the gravity of the goal.
While the goal proved to be the game-winner, Northeastern scored a late one to make it interesting.
At 14:24 into the period, Robbie Vrolyk sprinted from the corner to the goalmouth, crashing the net in and stuffing the puck past Kevin Boyle (32 saves). What happened next embroiled the final few minutes of the game in a bit of controversy, at least for the home team.
When Kevin Roy scored for the Huskies on the power play in the first period, teddy bears rained down onto the ice as a part of promotion to donate the stuffed animals to charity. Usually such promotions are cleared with the league beforehand to avoid any penalties for the home team.
As Northeastern coach Jim Madigan explained after the game, there was miscommunication.
“We had sent a memo to the league office explaining the teddy bear toss for charity and the memo didn’t get to the officials,” Madigan explained. “So when [the initial toss] happened, I could see that the officials were surprised. I called them over to say that ‘you looked surprised’ that they weren’t notified. The officials were good, but then said that they would have to give me a warning.”
With the warning already issued, after Vrolyk’s third-period goal, a lone teddy bear was tossed on the ice from behind the UMass bench. It forced the officials to issue a delay of game bench minor penalty to Northeastern (per league rules). While the penalty likely did not affect the outcome, it added a sour note to what was already a tough game for the Huskies, their fourth loss this season after scoring first in a game.