UMass races past New Hampshire in high-scoring final period

By Mark Chiarelli

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Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Photo by Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Shane Walsh walked into the postgame press conference with a weathered, brown tri-cornered “Minutemen” hat.

The hat, which is awarded to the Massachusetts hockey team’s player of the game, is only handed out when the Minutemen are victorious. After Walsh’s performance Friday night against New Hampshire, the “Minutemen” hat may want to get comfortable in his locker.

The junior winger scored two different go-ahead goals in a frantic third period, guiding the Minutemen past UNH 6-4 at the Mullins Center. It was Walsh’s second multi-goal game in his last three games and gave UMass its first home Hockey East Victory since Jan. 24, 2014.

And it was the second straight win in which he was awarded at least a partial share of the hat.

“I’m just riding the wave right now,” Walsh said. “I’m just gonna keep trying to shoot the puck and I’ve been lucky enough to have a couple go in.”

Walsh broke a 4-4 deadlock 14 minutes, 29 seconds into the third period on a give-and-go play with forward Frank Vatrano. Walsh rushed the slot after passing to Vatrano and was rewarded with a return pass and beat UNH goaltender Adam Clark to make it 5-4.

Only a minute later, a Brandon Montour shot from the point deflected off Troy Power’s stick in traffic and found the back of the net to give UMass a 6-4 lead and control over a lightning-quick third period which featured five goals.

The Minutemen (7-15, 2-10 HE) finished with six goals on 20 shots. Minutemen goaltender Henry Dill made 29 saves in the victory. It was UMass’ second victory in three games and a continuation of an upward surge in momentum since the team returned for campus for the second half of the season.

“We’ve been struggling, it’s no secret that the first half (of the season) wasn’t the way we wanted it to be,” Walsh said.

“When we start getting some wins piled together, it just makes the whole mood in the room positive. It gives us a little reassurance that what we’re doing is working.”

UMass led 3-2 entering the third period, but allowed a power play goal to the Wildcats’ (7-12-2, 1-6-1 HE) Tyler Kelleher, who tied it at 3-3. But 20 seconds later, Walsh scored on a shot which beat Clark through his pads to re-take the lead 4-3.

But the Minutemen faltered again on the penalty kill.

UNH’s Casey Thrush scored on a one-timer from Kelleher to tie it at 4-4 two minutes later. Thrush was left alone next to the UMass net and slammed home the goal from one knee. The Minutemen committed four different penalties in the third period which aided the Wildcats in staying in the game.

Yet UMass, behind the goals from Walsh and Power, found a way to bounce back. And that’s something the Minutemen once couldn’t say earlier this season, when collapses and deficits were the norm.

“Yeah, there’s no question,” said Micheletto when asked if it showed his team now had confidence.

“We had some hard lessons that we had to learn … We certainly know we can score goals if we do things the right way. Obviously, we don’t want to have to be in a position to continue to answer but it’s also a sign of our confidence to do that when needed.”

UNH scored 90 seconds into the game on a goal from Andrew Potularski. But UMass responded with the next two goals; the first coming from Riley McDougall (his first career goal) off an assist from Keith Burchett and the second coming from Marc Hetnik off assists from Patrick Lee and Dennis Kravchenko.

Jake Horton also added a goal for UMass, his fourth of the year. Patrick Lee had three assists and Brandon Montour added two.

Walsh hopes the Minutemen can continue to turn the corner in the second half of the season. They travel again to face the Wildcats Saturday night at 6:30 p.m.

“Every game we’ve played I think has been solid,” he said. “I definitely think there’s a lot of belief in our room. We’re looking to make some damage in the second half.”

Mark Chiarelli can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mark_Chiarelli.