Dainton propels Minutemen to playoffs

By Steve Levine

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian
Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

In the last game of the regular season, the captain of the Massachusetts men’s hockey team stepped up when his team needed him most.

Paul Dainton single-handedly saved the Minutemen’s season Saturday by making a slew of clutch saves late in the Minutemen’s game against No. 14 Maine. The only way the Minutemen would have missed  the postseason was if they lost to the Black Bears and Providence upset No. 7 Merrimack. At the beginning of the third period Saturday, UMass trailed, 3-1, and was also aware of the Friars’ 5-3 lead over the Warriors.

In what could have been the final game of his career, Dainton showed exactly why he wears the ‘C’ on his jersey. As his team rallied in the third to take a 4-3 lead, the captain stopped 14-of-15 shots, many of which seemed destined for the back of the net. Although Dainton let up a game-tying goal with less than two minutes to go, sending the game into overtime, he rebounded and made a number of saves, continually drawing bows from many of the 3,376 fans on hand at the Mullins Center..

As the last seconds of overtime ticked away, the Minutemen immediately took to the ice and celebrated around Dainton. UMass coach Don Cahoon saved a moment for him as well, congratulating him and thanking him for his heroics when the game mattered most.

“We got an immense effort from Dainton in critical situations…He’s the captain and he really is a special kid and I think everybody’s starting to realize that,” said UMass coach Don Cahoon.

After falling behind, 3-0, in the first, Dainton and his teammates showed resilience late in the game, something they’ve done time and time again without seeing positive results.

“There were a couple of goals [in the first period] that you’d want back, and I knew the guys were looking at me to make saves,” said Dainton. “I knew I had to make some saves to keep the momentum going.”

The Mullins Center erupted when rookie defenseman Adam Phillips gave UMass a 4-3 lead with two minutes left to play. However, Maine scored 19 seconds later to tie the score. The Black Bears were not about to give up on the win, though, as they continually created strong scoring opportunities late in the third and in overtime. However, with each opportunity came a seemingly impossible save from Dainton, who was quick to acknowledge UMass’ defense, which continually blocked shots, cleared rebounds and provided him good vision to make saves.

Dainton has accomplished many feats throughout his career, including claiming ownership of UMass’ all-time saves record against Boston College on Feb. 25. Still, Dainton was not sure how his college experience would pan out after a few years out of school while he played in junior leagues in Canada.

“He asked coming to UMass his freshman year… ‘You know, I’ve been out of school for a while, what’s this college thing all about?’” said Cahoon. “I tease him about it all the time, but he figured it out pretty [well].”

He certainly did.

Dainton has been a rock for the Minutemen for four years and his leadership has been unparalleled since his freshman year. He is consistently calm, poised and articulate, qualities that earned him the “C” at the start of the season.

The Minutemen will be looking for more of the same from their captain in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs, when they face off with Boston College in a three-game set beginning March 11.

Steve Levine can be reached at [email protected]