After New Hampshire goaltender Casey DeSmith stole one on Friday, stopping 48 shots en route to a 4-3 victory, the Massachusetts hockey team found a way to solve the freshman, while getting a little help from its own freshman netminder to put together a sorely-needed 4-2 triumph Saturday.
The Minutemen (12-15-5, 8-13-4 Hockey East) had a much easier time exposing DeSmith, despite only getting off 32 shots on goal.
“We had some good pressure and good chances,” said UMass coach Don Cahoon. “[DeSmith] was once again very good, but I think we did a little bit better job [of] creating a net-front presence.”
Steve Mastalerz put on a clinic of his own, stopping 26 shots from the Wildcats (14-16-3, 11-13-2 HEA), including nine big saves in the third period, where he held the Wildcats scoreless.
“[Mastalerz] was solid all night long,” said Cahoon. “He really showed his athleticism.”
Sophomore defenseman Joel Hanley scored the eventual game-winner for UMass three minutes, 53 seconds into the second period. Hanley received a pass from sophomore forward Patrick Kiley at the top right circle. From there, the blue-liner carried the puck to the middle, found an opening and buried home a wrister to extend the lead to 3-1.
UNH refused to go down without a fight, however, as Nick Sorkin beat Mastalerz 16:37 into the second period to cut the Minuteman lead to one.
The third period all came down to which team played better defense and received tigther goaltending.
On this night, it was UMass.
“At the end, we went into a little different look in the middle of the rink and tried to make a mess of it, forcing them to shoot into pads,” said Cahoon. “They’re going to possess the puck more when we play off them, but there’s a lot of traffic for them to get through.”
Both goaltenders faced nine shots in the period, and neither team sent anyone to the penalty box, but it was the Wildcats who would make a pivotal mistake in the end.
Senior captain T.J. Syner held the puck and found Brandon Gracel – who was back in the lineup after missing the previous two contests for undisclosed reasons – open in the neutral zone. The sophomore then led a two-on-one break and fed Conor Sheary stick-side for the finish.
It was UNH which got on the scoreboard first, despite the Minutemen’s strong finish, as Kevin Goumas led a breakaway shorthanded that Mastalerz was able to stop with the pad, but deflected right into the stick of Stevie Moses, who hammered it home.
UMass’ Kevin Czepiel responded with the equalizer at the 10:15 mark of the first period, and Michael Marcou gave UMass its first lead of the weekend 1:15 into the second period, one it would not relinquish.
DeSmith steals one for UNH
Fifty-one shots on goal and four power play opportunities were not enough for the Minutemen to beat Casey DeSmith and the Wildcats on Friday night, as UNH came away with a 4-3 win at the Mullins Center.
“[Friday’s game] is the type of game where if everything played out like it should, maybe we win 6-4,” said Cahoon. “I thought we played well enough offensively to score a bunch more goals, but that’s where you have to give [DeSmith] real high marks.”
UMass appeared to be finding its rhythm 4:47 into the final period when Hanley beat DeSmith top-left shelf to even the score at two, but two defensive breakdowns in a matter of 17 seconds led to a pair of UNH goals, and a 4-2 deficit.
Danny Hobbs salvaged the Minutemen’s chances with a goal at the 12:25 mark, but DeSmith proved to be too much to handle, as even putting an extra-attacker out for 58 seconds was not enough to force overtime.
“I think we put a pretty valiant effort out there,” said Hobbs. “At this point in the season, effort is not enough. It’s the wins that count. We just didn’t do enough to get it done.”
DeSmith’s play alone was enough to cause UMass trouble, but freshman defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk didn’t make things any easier for the Minutemen with a pair of goals of his own.
Van Riemsdyk’s first tally came 6:30 into the first period off a slap shot from just ahead of the blue-line that fired past freshman goalie Kevin Boyle (25 saves) to give the Wildcats an early, 1-0, advantage.
Van Riemsdyk then made it 2-0 at the 4:44 mark of the second period with another slap shot, this time from the top-left circle.
UMass did respond with a power play goal from Sheary, but in the end it was far from enough.
“I thought we made a big effort and pushed real hard,” said Cahoon. “We created some real opportunities and just couldn’t make the most of them.”
The Minutemen next take the ice Friday night at the Mullins Center for Senior Night, where they host Merrimack at 7 p.m.
Nick Canelas can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Canelas.