Minutemen gain momentum prior to Hockey East Tournament

By Melissa Turtinen, Collegian Staff

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P.J. Stanley / Collegian

The last weekend of regular season play didn’t matter for the Massachusetts hockey team to receive a berth to the Hockey East playoffs, but it did provide momentum for the upcoming tournament.

The Minutemen played a home-and-home series with Merrimack, losing in overtime 3-2 on Friday and coming back on their senior night to win, 6-1 on Saturday at the Mullins Center.

While the two games over the weekend meant nothing for UMass’ seed for the upcoming tournament, other games over the weekend had serious implications.

Prior to the weekend, it was unknown whether the Minutemen would play Northeastern or Boston University in the first round. But after BU swept Providence and NU went 1-1 against Boston College, the Huskies fell to the No. 2 seed in the tournament and will face UMass.

The Minutemen will have one week of practice before taking on Northeastern on Friday.

‘[Saturday’s win] gives you some momentum and confidence, but I think the post season is completely different and we’re really going to have to buckle down next week in practice and use the momentum from [Saturday] night and harness that into something that we can build off of going into Friday night,’ said UMass coach Don Cahoon.

Saturday’s game began with a breakdown of UMass’ net-front defense and a goal by Merrimack‘s Joe Cucci 1 minute, 30 seconds into the game. Ryan Flanigan had the puck low on the goal line and passed it to the slot where Cucci was left open at the back door for the score.

After Merrimack‘s goal the Minutemen (15-18-3, 10-14-3 Hockey East) came back and didn’t let up ‘- they scored six unanswered goals from six different players, including points from six of the seven seniors that were honored that night.

‘Great night for the seniors, everyone got involved in the scoring except Scotty [Crowder], and Scotty isn’t out there to be a scorer really, he gets a chip in now and then, but he’s out there to make himself physically felt and he did a good job of doing that,’ Cahoon said. ‘All the seniors had a really good night which is a great way to be sent off.’

Senior Cory Quirk scored the game-tying goal at 4:40 in the first after senior Alex Berry controlled the puck in the air and took a shot; Quirk deflected it into the goal while on the power play.

Senior John Wessbecker scored his first goal of the season and the game-winning goal at 10:53 in the first. Wessbecker stepped into the slot to pick up a loose puck and wristed a shot high past net-minder Andrew Braithwaite (32 saves). Quirk was awarded an assist in the game-winning goal, which was his 100th point of his career.

‘Yeah I kind of planned it out,’ Quirk said jokingly about tallying his 100th point on senior night. ‘It’s great that we played so well as a team, that’s what we really need going into the playoffs and just as seniors I think its gratifying to go out in this building like that. I think it’s a complete game that we played, there wasn’t really any time we didn’t have momentum or anything. It’s a great victory for us.’

Just 29 seconds after Wessbecker’s goal, Mark Concannon tallied UMass’ third goal after making a move past Merrimack‘s defense and shot high for the score. The Minutemen scored two more goals in the second from Berry and James Marcou and a Casey Wellman goal in the third.

The Minutemen were successful on aspects of the game they’ve struggled with, as of late. They didn’t get into penalty trouble, as they have been known to do after taking a lead early on in the game (6-3 loss to Boston University on Feb. 27). UMass was called for seven penalties compared to Merrimack‘s nine.

‘The team’s ability to be able to compete at the highest level is predicated on its discipline and minimizing opportunities to proven power play units,’ said Cahoon. ‘We’ve struggled with that on a consistent basis and when we do exhibit the discipline that keeps us out of the box in a big way it makes all the difference in the world.’

UMass went 3-for-6 on the power play, taking 13 shots while being a man up. Merrimack (9-21-4, 5-19-3 Hockey East) was 0-for-4 on the man advantage and took eight shots.

‘The power play obviously threw the puck around pretty well, got some good looks, scored a couple of nice goals,’ Cahoon said. ‘It was a good night for us in terms of transition play, puck movement, taking control of the game and having the seniors lead the way.’

The variation between Friday night’s loss and Saturday’s win was the team’s ability to create chances on offense and finish them.

‘The difference was we put six on the board and made it look like it was something we do a lot and the fact of the matter is sometimes goals come hard for us. In this league, goals come hard,’ Cahoon said. ‘We played 80 percent of [Friday] night pretty well, the way we wanted to play. But, 20 percent we took ourselves out of the game. [Saturday] night we didn’t have a real 20 percent lapse, we might have had a 10 percent lapse.’

Game notes

Quirks 100th career point makes him the seventh Minutemen to reach the total. He had a goal and two assists on Saturday ‘hellip; Paul Dainton was in goal on both Friday and Saturday, making 28 saves on Friday and 36 on Saturday ‘hellip; UMass outshot Merrimack 38-37 on Saturday.

Melissa Turtinen can be reached at [email protected]