Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass picks up win over UNH at home, 3-2

Niinisaari scores twice in Victory
Kira Johnson
Daily Collegian (2024)

The Massachusetts hockey team got itself back in the win column on Friday night, defeating New Hampshire 3-2 on home ice. The Minutemen (17-9-3, 10-7-2 Hockey East) were once again backed by a stellar performance in net from Michael Hrabal, as well as a surprise offensive catalyst in Samuli Niinisaari to surge past a skilled Wildcat (16-12-1, 9-9-1 HEA) team in their penultimate home game of the season.

After a relatively dominant first period in terms of puck possession, UMass allowed UNH to tie the game up at one and regain momentum at the start of the second.

Just when it looked like the Minutemen were ready to storm back and stem the Wildcat pressure, they battled a different obstacle: avoiding high-sticking infractions while trying to score.

Taylor Makar thought he had his fifth goal of the season in the first period, but it was quickly called back after it was deemed he deflected the puck while his stick was above the crossbar.

So, when Michael Cameron scored what looked to be his sixth goal of the season, it seemed as though UMass was about to storm back in front of the Wildcats.

But once again, UNH head coach Mike Souza got the signal from his staff and decided to challenge the call. And I’ll bet you can guess what the result was.

All that is to say that it looked like the Minutemen just might not have been able to break through the glass ceiling in front of their home crowd, until finally, with just under two minutes left in the second, UMass shattered that glass and made sure there was no doubt that this one was going to stick.

Cole O’Hara and Jack Musa charged through the neutral zone on a 2-on-2 with UNH’s last line of defense. As they were about to cross into the offensive zone, Wildcat defenseman Alex Gagne completely lost his footing and wiped out in dramatic fashion, much to the Mullins Center crowd’s amusement.

Now isolated to a 2-on-1, O’Hara used his speed to beat Nikolai Jenson to the outside and then slid the puck across the slot to Musa, who was able to put a move on Wildcat goaltender Jakob Hellsten to finally bring UMass back into the lead.

“Yeah [O’Hara] had a really good rush and then he made a sick pass, and I caught it and went to my backhand,” Musa said of his tiebreaking goal.

Samuli Niinisaari tallied his second goal of the game from his own blue line into an empty UNH net with less than two minutes left in regulation to seal the deal for UMass, though the Wildcats did sneak a consolation goal in with less than two seconds remaining on the clock.

Niinisaari opened the scoring for UMass in its strong first period, one-timing a Ryan Lautenbach pass behind Hellsten.

UMass head coach Greg Carvel had only good things to say about the graduate student after the game.

“[Niinisaari] was really good on both sides of the puck,” Carvel said. “Very happy for him, he played big for us tonight and we needed that. He was our best player tonight.”

The Minutemen opened up the opportunity to sweep the series with a win Friday night, and with the way the pairwise rankings are constructed to reward road wins, a victory in Durham would go a long way in improving UMass’ chance to qualify for the NCAA tournament come March.

“[Saturday’s] a huge game,” Carvel said. “After the game, talking to the team, they instantly started just talking about what it’s going to take to win on the road and how important that game is tomorrow.”

UMass also put itself solely in fourth place in the Hockey East standings with the win as they were tied at 28 points with UNH coming into Friday. A sweep would bring the Minutemen even closer to solidifying a home quarterfinal matchup in the Hockey East tournament.

Puck will drop Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Whittemore Center in Durham and can be streamed on ESPN+.

Matt Skillings can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @matt_skillings.

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