Coming off a rough 7-3 defeat Friday night, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst got out on top of the University of Maine early and never looked back, winning 4-1 at Alfond Arena.
The Minutemen improve to 11-14-5 and 7-12-4 in Hockey East while the Black Bears fall to 18-10-3 and 13-9-2 in conference.
“We had a lot of energy left over from last night,” said UMass head coach Don Cahoon. “I thought we pressured the puck well. Our physicality was better than it had been and our goaltending was solid.”
The minutemen stifled the UMaine crowd in the first minute with an early goal. A miscommunication by Black Bears defenders allowed freshman center Steven Guzzo to corral the puck and beat the surprised sophomore goalie Dan Sullivan.
“[Sophomore forward Michael] Pereira came on one side of the net and I came on the other and the goalie was turning and lost control and I was luckily enough to be there to pop it in,” Guzzo said.
“That first goal is always so big. It’s such an emotional game and that really charged them up,” said UMaine head coach Tim Whitehead.
UMass picked up their pressure from the night before, causing the Black Bears trouble in the neutral zone, making it difficult for UMaine to start their offense.
The Black Bears had their first power-play opportunity midway through the first period when freshman forward Andrew Tegeler was tagged for interference. The Black Bears mustered little offense during the man-advantage.
With 5 minutes remaining in the period, UMaine had another chance on the power play, but looked more disjointed than the previous opportunity, leaving the score 1-0 in favor of the Minutemen.
The Black Bears brought a little more energy in the second period, with senior forward Spencer Abbott getting a good look at net, but the shot was deflected away by freshman goalie Kevin Boyle.
Minutes later, UMass had a great opportunity to double their lead, but Sullivan somehow kept the puck from crossing the red line.
The Minutemen’s defense continued to excel in front of Boyle, with freshman Oleg Yevenko sprawling out to stop a breakaway by junior forward Matt Mangene.
With 12 minutes gone by in the second period, the Minutemen got their first chance on the power play and took advantage of it. After senior defender Michael Marcou fired a shot toward Sullivan, Pereira gathered it for an easy put-in for his 17th goal of the season.
“It deflected off somebody and went wide,” Sullivan said. “I tried to get back in position but their guy was right there and put it in. He had good hands there.”
“They seized the momentum on that power-play goal,” Whitehead added.
UMass gained another power-play opportunity late in the period, but couldn’t connect. The Minutemen outshot the Black Bears 12 to eight in the second period.
The Black Bears got right back into the game at the start of the third period thanks to junior forward Joey Diamond. After controlling the puck behind the net, Diamond cut toward the slot and fired a shot as he got tripped up. After a lengthy review, the goal stood, bringing the score to 2-1.
Any momentum from that goal soon disappeared for UMaine as freshman forward John Parker was called for a 5-minute hitting from behind penalty and was given a game misconduct.
The Black Bears kept the Minutemen out of the net, but were unable to build off their earlier goal.
With 8 minutes remaining in the period, the Minutemen broke out on a four-on-two break and junior center Rocco Carzo finished the play with an easy one-timer.
“We knew we had to bear down and skate hard, it turned out well for us tonight,” Carzo said. “We needed some momentum at the start and we got it and kept rolling from there.”
“Mangene came on a rush and tried to do too much,” Whitehead said. “We’ve talked about simplifying our game. They came back the other way and capitalized. We had plenty of time to come back but we tried to do too many things individually. It wasn’t a lack of desire, it was a lack of execution.”
UMass added an empty-net goal in the final minute to bring the score to 4-1.
Sullivan made 19 saves on 22 shots while Boyle stopped 21 of the 22 attempts directed his way.
“We didn’t have enough traffic in front [of the net],” Sullivan said. “He was making the saves tonight and we’ll give him the credit he deserves.”
UMaine sits alone in fourth place in Hockey East, while UMass is tied for the final playoff spot with Northeastern University.
“[The win] keeps us alive,” Cahoon said. “We’re fighting for our lives.”