Minutemen still perfect after three, top Maine 5-3

By Nick O'Malley

Maxwell SparrWith 11 minutes, 19 seconds left in the game, the Massachusetts hockey team held a 5-2 lead on Maine. The Minutemen had been ahead for virtually the entire game and moments earlier, had gone up by three.

It was a comfortable lead by any stretch of the imagination. But the eight men in the penalty box and chippy play on the ice told a different story.

On the night, the two teams accumulated 26 minor penalties, one five-minute major and four 10-minute game misconducts, totaling 97 penalty minutes.

Play was civil for the first period and half, but that all changed after a hit on Maine freshman Adam Shemansky. UMass defenseman Martin Nolet crushed Shemansky into the boards, drawing a rise from the crowd. The situation turned serious, though, as Shemansky remained on the ice for several minutes and was eventually taken out on a stretcher. Nolet was called for a five-minute contact to the head/boarding penalty on the play.

“I was probably looking for the two minutes instead of the five. But at the end of the day, all we’re looking for is if the kid’s alright,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said of the hit.

The referees and Maine coach Tim Whitehead, though, disagreed.

“I saw it on tape, it was certainly deserving of a five [minute penalty] in a game, no doubt,” Whitehead said.

From that point on, Nolet was a marked man on the ice and for every shove after the whistle Maine gave, UMass responded in full. When the dust had settled, UMass (3-0-0, 2-0-0 Hockey East) came away on top 5-3.

“Those disjointed games are a challenge in themselves, trying to keep focus,” Cahoon said. “Losing players breaks up combinations. It becomes a little bit more difficult on the bench and your team can lose focus and make a lot of bad mistakes as a result.”

The Minutemen wasted no time getting their first goal of the night. Just 1:37 into the game, on a Black Bears (1-4-0, 0-1-0 HEA) elbowing penalty, James Marcou found Casey Wellman, who crossed towards the slot and fired a shot past Maine goalkeeper Scott Darling for the first score of the game.

The goal was Wellman’s second of the season and gave Marcou a team-high five points at the time. Marcou would finish the game with nine on the season, notching a goal and three assists on the night.

UMass struck again later in the first period when, shortly after a faceoff, the Maine defense was out of position and senior Martin Nolet sniped a shot over Darling’s right shoulder and into the net. The goal marked the second-straight game where the Minutemen have jumped out to a multiple-goal lead in the first 10 minutes.

The two-goal lead would not last long. Four minutes later in the period, the Minutemen turned over the puck in their own defensive end. Maine freshman Matt Mangene passed near the right face-off circle to Spencer Abbott, forcing UMass goaltender Paul Dainton to commit. Abbott then one-timed it across the slot to Shemansky for the goal.

Dainton provided another solid performance for the Minutemen in goal on the night, notching 26 saves. In the midst of raised emotions, Dainton was solid and composed throughout the game.

“The game itself was that for our team and Paul, as the game within the game, certainly could’ve given up a goal like that and really lost his focus. But he didn’t. That’s maturity and that’s his strength right now,” Cahoon said.

UMass would add a third goal in the period when Marcou fired a shot to Darling’s glove side. Darling got a piece of it, but couldn’t find it as he fell back and the puck dribbled down behind him and into the net.

After giving up three goals in the first period, Darling was pulled from the net and freshman Shawn Sirman was inserted between the pipes. Dave Wilson, who started last year’s game against UMass, did not make the trip for the Black Bears, much to the chagrin of the fans in the Mullins Center, who had taken pleasure in taunting the goalie in past games.

After several early scoring chances for UMass in the second period, it looked as though the Minutemen were going to pile onto their lead. However, it was Dainton who surrendered the next goal.

After the Maine offense caught a break when a referee’s skate slowed a puck from leaving the UMass zone, defenseman Will O’Neil, from behind the left face-off circle, fired a shot in that deflected off of UMass defender Mike Donnellan and in for the goal.

UMass responded later in the period on another goal sparked by Marcou. After penetrating into the Maine zone, Marcou held on to the puck and drifted through the zone, looking for a shot. Marcou never took it; instead, he dished the puck to his brother, defenseman Michael Marcou, who, after his first shot was blocked. fired again for his first-career goal.

In the closing minutes of the second half, emotions for both teams spilled over as the two teams engaged in as close to a fight as possible without major penalties being called. Five minors were issued in the scuffle, three on UMass.

The Minutemen killed off the penalty, despite several prime-scoring chances for Maine. The physical play and scuffles late in the game prevented either team from putting much together offensively. Maine, though, was able to add a late goal after pulling the goalie. Moments after a believed goal was called off, Brian Flynn put one in the back of the net with 1:02 left in the game.

Nick O’Malley can be reached at [email protected]