The Massachusetts hockey team ended 2012 on a high note and gave itself reason for optimism heading into the New Year.
The Minutemen won the Ledyard National Bank Classic championship with a 3-2 win over eighth-ranked, and tournament host, Dartmouth in Hanover, N.H., on Monday night, handing the Big Green their first loss at home this season.
“It’s great. I’m really excited for the boys and how hard they played, how much they stayed the course,” UMass coach John Micheletto told UMassAthletics.com. “A lot of adversity, losing Joel Hanley at the end of the first period, a lot of penalties. (It’s) very easy to lose our focus and get into a choppy game, but our guys did a fantastic job and it shows what we can do here in the second half.”
With the game tied 2-2 heading into the third period, UMass (7-9-2) jumped on the Big Green (8-3-2) early in the period with a power play goal from Branden Gracel just 15 seconds into the frame. The goal was Gracel’s only of the tournament, but he also chipped in with three assists to earn tournament Most Valuable Player honors. Dartmouth was a perfect 7-0 at home and had killed off 32 consecutive penalties prior to the final, but both of those streaks came to an end Monday night.
The Minutemen scored their first goal of the game just three minutes, four seconds into the game on a power play goal by Conor Sheary, who beat Big Green goaltender Cab Morris up high. UMass continued to press Dartmouth following the goal, but found misfortune when a potential goal for the Minutemen was disallowed, leading to a shorthanded opportunity soon after for Brett Patterson, who tied the game with a goal.
The Minutemen had a second goal waved off following the equalizer due to a goaltender obstruction penalty. This set the stage for the Big Green to pull ahead with under nine minutes remaining in the first period on a goal by Dustin Walsh.
UMass found itself in a difficult situation when defenseman Joel Hanley was called for a five-minute major near the end of the first period, forcing the Minutemen to start the first three minutes second period a man down.
UMass was successful in killing off the major penalty, but play continued to be slowed by penalties, as each team began a parade to the penalty box.
Midway through the second period, the Minutemen found themselves killing off another penalty, but Eddie Olczyk sprung loose and scored the team’s fourth shorthanded goal of the season to tie the game up at two. UMass relied on strong goaltending from sophomore Kevin Boyle, who made eight of his 27 saves in the third period, for much of the night, and proved essential to the Minutemen’s success in the tournament after being named Most Outstanding Goaltender.
“You can’t win championships without goaltending and Kevin gave us a chance both nights,” Micheletto said. “You know, I’m sure he’ll be the first guy to credit the guys in front of him for minimizing a lot of second shot opportunities, which as you saw was a big factor in the game and a big factor why we had a lot of the offense we did.”
UMass rallies to top Beavers
The path to the title got off to a rocky start in the semifinal contest against Bemidji St. (5-10-3) on Sunday, when UMass needed to overcome a 2-0 first period deficit to earn a 4-3 win.
After heading into the first intermission down 2-0, the Minutemen scored four unanswered goals, including three in the second period, to stave off the Beavers and gain a berth in the championship game.
Michael Pereira, Darren Rowe and Adam Phillips each scored their fourth goals of the season, while Zack LaRue’s first career goal with 10:59 left in the game to put the Minutemen up 4-2 proved to be the game-winner.
BSU pulled to within one after it pulled the goalie and beat Boyle with 2:23 left in the third, but was unable to get any closer.
“I was happy with the process,” Micheletto said. “We told the guys between the first and second periods to stick with it and we had to tighten up and not have so many defensive lapses and to just stay the course offensively and the guys did a nice job.”
The Minutemen will look to carry their momentum when they resume conference play Jan. 11 at home against Providence.
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter at @MDC_Strohecker.