Two weeks ago, after a 5-3 loss at home to Northeastern, Massachusetts hockey coach Don Cahoon had plenty to say about his team’s disappointing performance.
On Saturday, the outspoken coach was at a loss for words.
The Minutemen (5-14-4, 3-9-3 Hockey East) shut out Vermont (6-12-3, 5-7-3 HE) 6-0, earning a two-game split at Gutterson Fieldhouse to maintain possession of seventh place in conference standings.
UMass allowed four second-period goals against the Huskies on Jan. 7 in a come-from-behind loss, which prompted Cahoon to openly question his team’s toughness, saying their lack of discipline made him “sick to his stomach.”
The typically verbose Cahoon was uncharacteristically curt after his team’s dominant performance last weekend.
“I’m a little bit speechless because we haven’t had too many nights like this,” Cahoon said. “This league doesn’t afford you nights like this very often.”
With Vermont playing for a tie in the conference standings at eighth place, the Minutemen overcame a 2-1 loss Friday to earn its first shutout of the season and its third win in four games.
Junior TJ Syner scored three points (two goals, one assist) and fellow third-year Danny Hobbs (two assists, +5 rating) led the Minutemen, who had 11 point-scorers, including four with multiple points.
Senior Paul Dainton recorded his second career shutout, making 26 saves for the second straight night.
“He was a closed door tonight,” Cahoon said of Dainton’s performance. “He made some great saves, [he was] really sharp.”
The captain net-minder had help from a young group of defenders, especially on the power-play.
The UMass penalty kill unit regained its form on Saturday, stopping all five Catamount opportunities on Saturday after allowing its first goal in 14 consecutive opportunities on Friday.
The Minutemen, ranked eight in the conference in the penalty kill (79.7 percent), halted 6-of-7 power-play chances on the weekend.
“I thought the defense as a core… battled, competed and pressured them so that we could break the puck out of the zone and curtail their offensive effort,” Cahoon said.
Less than five minutes into the first period, Hobbs scored his sixth goal of the season off a pass from Syner. Hobbs advanced the puck past the neutral zone and into the attacking zone, then laid the puck off to Brenden Gracel, who flicked a back-handed pass to Syner who, with a defender draped on his back, sped towards net and centered the puck to the waiting Hobbs.
The Minutemen went up 2-0 later in the period when Syner gained a breakaway and rifled a wrist shot from the left-wing circle past Rob Medore (13 saves), who was replaced in the second period.
Senior Chase Langeraap (one goal, one assist) capped the scoring with a nifty backhander through the legs of backup Vermont goalie Alex Vazzano, for his seventh point in as many games.
Six goals is the largest margin of victory against Vermont in UMass history and the most goals the Minutemen have scored in a game this season.
The Minutemen have now outscored opponents 17-6 in its past four games and 10-1 in its last two wins. However, they did not muster much on the attack in the series opener on Friday.
Freshman Conor Sheary scored the lone goal for UMass, his fourth on the season, set up by freshman Michael Pereira and Langeraap.
Vermont’s Dan Lawson and Sebast Stalberg had two assists apiece as the Catamounts were outshot 29-28, going 1-for-2 on the power-play.
Stationed in the attacking zone during its first power-play opportunity, UVM scored when Stalberg set Lawson up for a one-timer just beneath the blue line that was tipped in by Josh Burrows for the 1-0 lead with 10:38 to play in the opening frame.
With about four minutes to play in the first period, Stalberg threw a pass from the end line across ice to an awaiting Lawson who slapped a shot from the top of the faceoff circle that was again tipped in, this time by Jack Downing.
Sheary answered back 30 seconds later, taking a centering pass from Pereira behind the net and firing past Medore through the one-hole.
Dan Gigliotti can be reached at email@example.com.