The University of Massachusetts men’s hockey team got the win they needed Saturday night to earn a spot in the Hockey East Tournament, which starts next weekend.
The Minutemen (18-16-0, 13-14-0 Hockey East) beat the University of Maine 4-3 at Alfond Arena and swept the weekend set and season series with the Black Bears. UMaine (16-15-3, 13-12-2) had already secured a playoff berth and will have home ice for the quarterfinals thanks to Massachusetts-Lowell’s tie Saturday with Vermont.
“I couldn’t ask for our guys to dig deeper or play any harder,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said after Saturday’s game. “Our two captains and our goaltender kind of spearheaded this whole thing.”
The Minutemen entered the game in a three-way tie for seventh place in the 10 team conference. Eight teams qualify for the playoffs. UMass’ win guaranteed at least a tie in the standings with Vermont (also in seventh), and the Minutemen won the season series with the Catamounts to break the tie.
“It was a real timely effort on our part given the struggles we’ve been having over the last month,” Cahoon said.
The Minutemen took a 4-2 lead into the third period despite being outshot 14-4 in the second and 38-20 for the game. UMaine sophomore left wing Brain Flynn made it interesting with a power play goal in the game’s final minute, but UMass was able to hold off UMaine’s final charge with their goaltender pulled for the extra attacker.
“Obviously it wasn’t the weekend we wanted to end our season with,” UMaine junior center and captain Tanner House said. “But our goal at the start of the year was to get home ice.”
The Minutemen killed off 1:40 of a five-on-three UMaine power play midway through the third period that was littered with Maine scoring chances. UMass junior goaltender Paul Dainton was up to the task in a 35-save effort for the win (15-13).
“The goaltender is the most important penalty killer, and (Dainton) came up huge,” Cahoon said.
UMass senior defenseman and captain Justin Braun scored a pair of first period goals as the Minutemen took a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.
“We’ve had a little trouble of late getting shots through,” Braun said. “This weekend I just felt like it was ‘Puck luck’. I think we were due.”
Braun and sophomore center Casey Wellman scored less than two minutes apart to give the Minutemen an early 2-0 lead. Wellman finished the rebound created by defenseman Doug Kublin’s wrister from the left point 10:16 into the game, and Braun stuffed an uncontested chance past UMaine starting goaltender Shawn Sirman 1:44 later. Sirman was replaced by Dave Wilson after Braun’s goal.
Maine junior defenseman Jeff Dimmen answered Braun’s goal with 4:36 left in the period.
Braun’s one-timer from the right point sailed past Wilson on UMass five-on-three power play in the final minute of the period.
UMaine made it 3-2 on a power play early in the second period when leading scorer Gustav Nyquist fired a wrist shot past Dainton.
Senior center and captain Brett Watson flicked a backhander over Wilson’s glove with 4:05 remaining in the second period.
Wilson took the loss for UMaine, making 13 saves in 46:30.