After going winless in its first nine games and six Hockey East games, the Massachusetts men’s hockey team can breathe a collective sigh of relief as it earned its first win on Tuesday, beating Vermont at the Mullins Center, 4-1.
The Minutemen (1-6-3, 1-3-3 HE) received a strong performance from its freshman players, who combined to score all four goals.
Both teams played to a scoreless first period although the Catamounts (1-5-3, 1-4-2 HE) had multiple scoring opportunities and dictated the play. UMass’ Paul Dainton made 13 of his career-high 44 saves, many of which came on two separate penalty kills.
“It was a pretty shoddy exhibition in the first period,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “We were really very, very fortunate to be 0-0. You can give the credit to Dainton for being big and preserving. He was terrific, he was good all night long. I think he clearly was my number one star.”
Instead, Dainton was the number two star. First star honors belonged to rookie forward Michael Pereira, who scored his first of two goals 26 seconds into the first period on a power play. After UMass gained the zone, forward T.J. Syner came out from behind UVM’s net and found Pereira streaking to the slot for the one-timer goal. The score extended Pereira’s point-scoring streak to six games while also snapping UMass’ 0-18 skid on power plays.
“Our special teams have been a real difference in not being able to get a win and tonight you see the importance of it,” Cahoon said. “The penalty kill and power play executed at a high level and I was pleased [about that].”
The Minutemen extended their lead to two four minutes, thirty-five seconds in when rookies Branden Gracel and Adam Phillips combined for the goal. Gracel, fresh off the bench, took advantage of a UVM turnover as the puck found him at the blue line. He then put the puck on net, and Phillips redirected his shot through Catamount goalkeeper Rob Madore’s legs.
With 12 minutes, 23 seconds to play in the period, Syner found Gracel in the slot and Gracel fired a wrist shot that beat Madore, making it 3-0.
Vermont ended Dainton’s shutout bid 47 seconds into the third period when forward Jack Downing found a loose puck in the neutral zone and beat Dainton on a breakaway.
Pereira ended any hopes the Catamounts had of getting back in the game midway through the period when he took a pass from forward Chase Langeraap and beat Madore on the right side, setting the score at 4-1.
“He’s got ability around the net, he doesn’t shoot the puck especially hard,” Cahoon said about Pereira. “But he’s got a real good release and he’s deceptive with his shot. He’s gifted and it’s broken pretty well for him early in the year which is good. I think he came in here knowing he is a goal-scorer and it’s nice to have that guy on your side.”
Cahoon and Dainton are hopeful that this win can provide momentum for the Minutemen going forward.
“The [freshmen] have the skill and [they] needed to settle in a bit and realize they absolutely deserve to be at this level getting all the ice time they’re getting,” Dainton said. “We have guys stepping up huge. Pereira, Gracy here, and [Joel] Hanley had a phenomenal game at the point and all these guys are going to build off this so it’s a good confidence booster for them.”
UMass will play the second game of its three-game home stand when they host non-conference Quinnipiac (7-5-1) for a 7 p.m. game.
Steve Levine can be reached at [email protected]