UMass hockey averts crisis in 4-3 overtime thriller against AIC

By Ross Gienieczko

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(Ben Gallacher. Cade Belisle/ Daily Collegian)

(Ben Gallacher. Cade Belisle/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts hockey team led 3-1 going into the third period, but needed overtime to defeat American International College Tuesday night, as the Minutemen staved off a Yellow Jackets rally for a 4-3 win at Mass Mutual Center in Springfield.

Senior Ben Gallacher scored the overtime winner three minutes, 43 seconds into the extra frame. It was the first goal of the season for the Florida Panthers draft pick, and it averted what would have been arguably the worst loss of the season for UMass (8-17-4, 2-14-2 Hockey East) in a year that’s been full of them.

“I was at least glad that although we got ourselves into a tight spot late in the game, that we found a way to get ourselves out of it,” Minutemen coach John Micheletto told reporters after the game.

AIC (5-23-2) took the first lead of the game 11:45 into the first period when Chris Porter scored to give the Yellow Jackets a 1-0 lead. They would take that advantage into the first intermission, and still led more than halfway through the second period.

But at 13:01 of the second period, freshman Joseph Widmar scored his second goal in as many games as the floodgates opened for the UMass.

Senior Shane Walsh scored his team-leading 16th goal of the season 84 seconds later, and Austin Plevy scored on the power play just over two minutes later to complete the flurry. The Minutemen led 3-1, a lead they would hold well into the third period.

But two-goal leads are notoriously unsafe in the sport of hockey and sure enough, AIC came roaring back late in the third. Johno May scored to cut the UMass lead to 3-2 12:42 into the third. With just over 3:05 remaining in regulation, Johnny Mueller scored the game-tying goal that would send UMass and the Yellow Jackets into overtime and set the stage for Gallacher’s heroics.

“I think a lot of guys had good efforts tonight … I happened to be the one who put it in, but it could have been anyone,” Gallacher told reporters after the game.

Walsh assisted on the overtime winner and led the Minutemen with two points on the night. Freshman Nic Renyard made 30 saves to earn the win in net for UMass, while his counterpart, AIC goaltender Alex Murray, made 39 saves in defeat.

“Give a lot of credit to AIC’s battle. Alex Murray was very impressive,” Micheletto said. “He made a lot of nice saves and influenced our shots with his positioning.”

The Minutemen out-shot the Yellow Jackets 44-33. UMass also had a tremendous night in the faceoff circle, winning 50 draws to AIC’s 21. Captain Steven Iacobellis led the way with 16 wins and just six losses in the faceoff circle, but Dennis Kravchenko, Keith Burchett and Ryan Badger each won at least eight draws and were over 50 percent in the circle.

It was just the second win for UMass since Nov. 7. Before the overtime victory, the Minutemen had won just one game in their last 20, going 1-16-3 in that span.

UMass will return to action this Friday night when it hosts Northeastern at Mullins Center. Puck drop for the opening night of the home-and-home series is set for 8:30 p.m.

Ross Gienieczko can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @RossGien.