Tirone stops 26 as New Hampshire earns first win of 2018

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DURHAM, N.H. — No coach in sports enjoys losing skids, but when they finally do come to an end, it sure feels good.

That was the feeling for New Hampshire coach Dick Umile, whose Wildcats hadn’t won a game since Dec. 6, going 0-8-4 in that 12-game stretch.

Thanks to opportunistic scoring, however, the ability to capitalize on the power play, and a 26-save effort by Danny Tirone, UNH finally returned to the win column with a 3-1 win over Massachusetts in front of 4,617 at Towse Rink.

Coupled with a 1-1 tie on Friday night at Northeastern, UNH earned three much-needed points in the Hockey East standings. The Wildcats remain tied for eighth place with Vermont, which also won on Saturday. Whichever team finishes eighth claims the final home ice spot in the opening round of the Hockey East playoffs.

As nothing has for the past two months, the win certainly didn’t come easy. UNH jumped out to a two-goal lead, the first multiple goal lead it has held since leading Brown, 4-0, on Jan. 6 only to see that lead evaporate in a 4-4 tie.

Saturday however, as UMass mounted its comeback, getting a pretty tic-tac-toe goal from Mitchell Chaffee with 7:14 left in the second, New Hampshire was able to bend, yet never break.

“I told the guys [after the second], ‘Look, it wasn’t good,'” said Umile about a middle period when UMass held a 10-3 shot advantage and dominated territorially. “The guys responded. We’ve all been struggling here with not winning hockey games. They’ve been working hard, and they got rewarded for it.”

It was, indeed, an improved third period for the hosts, though some of that was thanks in part to two penalties by UMass forward Jake Gaudet, the second of which was a major and game misconduct for hitting from behind.

UNH scored on that five-minute power play on a Marcus Vela rebound goal to give itself a little cushion.

“The five-minute major was huge because it’s taking five minutes off the clock and we score,” said Umile. “That was a huge goal.”

The game was still not decided as UMass pulled its goaltender with more than three minutes left and looked to grab a second goal off Chaffee’s stick. After video review, though, it was ruled Marco Bozzo was interfering with Tirone.

It was the second time a goal was disallowed on the weekend for UMass, the first coming from in a 3-2 loss at home to Boston University. UMass coach Greg Carvel wasn’t disputing the no-goal calls, but did note that for a team that has struggled to score goals, particularly greasy goals near the crease, having the goal taken off the board played a big role.

“We do a pretty good job with the goalie pulled; I was confident, that’s why I pulled the goalie fairly early,” said Carvel. “We get some good looks. It’s unfortunate that goal gets called back. If that would’ve counted, I think there’s a chance we would have found a way to score another one.”

While that was displeasing for Carvel, he was much more concerned with both his team’s start and the penalties. UMass gave UNH three power plays in the game’s first 5:13, one of which the Wildcats converted on Liam Blackburn’s seventh goal of the season.

UNH had just 17 shots on goal in the game, 11 of them came on the power play.

Kohei Sato, who hails from Japan, then picked a good time to score his first collegiate goal with 2:17 left in the first to put the Minutemen in a 2-0 hole early. The slow start was something Carvel feared. Penalties just made it worse.

“We played a good game last night, an emotional kind of game, and I was concerned at how we were going to come out tonight,” said Carvel. “My concerns were justified.

“It was a bad way to start the game [taking three penalties], especially because I thought UNH had some good jump to start. We didn’t. It was just compounded by the penalties.”

While the win helps New Hampshire (10-13-5, 5-9-4 in Hockey East) keep pace with Vermont, a team it will play twice at home next week, the loss drops UMass (11-16-1, 5-12-1 Hockey East) to last place, a point behind Merrimack, which beat Maine in overtime on Saturday.