UMass Falls In Semifinal Heartbreaker, 5-4
March 14, 2003
BOSTON - The University of Massachusetts hockey team showed its resiliency twice in the Hockey East semifinals against third-ranked New Hampshire, but the Wildcats scored a late goal to claim a 5-4 victory in front of a sellout crowd at the FleetCenter. UMass came back from two-goal deficits twice, but couldn't get over the hump in dropping its first semifinal appearance in school history. The loss ends the Minutemen's record-breaking year at 19-17-1 overall.
New Hampshire had the best chance to score as the Minutemen took a defensive approach early on in the contest. The Wildcats had an odd-man rush about four minutes in, but freshman goalie Gabe Winer (Stoughton, Mass.) was up to the challenge, stopping three shots, including two during a pile-up in front of the net. Otherwise, the two teams played to a fairly-even first half of the first period. The Minutemen had a good opportunity with about eight minutes to play as Tim Vitek's (Dresden, Ontario) shot from the left face-off circle caromed off UNH goalie Mike Ayers to in front of the net, but Marvin Degon (Millbury, Mass.) couldn't get a stick on the rebound to keep the game scoreless. However, UNH was called for the first penalty of the game on the play, and the Minutemen went on the first power-play of the evening, which the Wildcats killed off after two UMass shots on goal. UNH then got the next big break of the game in the form of its first power-play chance of the night. The Wildcats capitalized as Tim Horst slipped in his sixth goal of the season with assists by Kevin Truelson and Justin Aikins at the 17:06 mark for a 1-0 advantage. Just over a minute later, the Wildcats then made it 2-0 when the Minutemen failed to clear the puck and Josh Prudden sniped a laser past Winer's glove top-shelf at the 18:08 mark. The Minutemen then withstood a late UNH flurry to stay within striking distance after the initial 20 minutes.
After killing off a UNH power play early in the stanza, UMass then started turning to its offense in the second period. Stephen Werner (Chevy Chase, Md.) cut into the lead midway through the frame with a great individual effort. Werner picked up the loose puck along the left boards, put a deke on a UNH defender, causing a seam in front of the net. Werner slid to the right slot and then fired a shot back across Ayers body that clanged off the left post and into the back of the net at the 8:24 mark to cut the UNH advantage to 2-1. Nick Kuiper (Beaconsfield, Quebec) assisted on the netter. The Minutemen then started buzzing and peppered Ayers with an array of shots, that the UNH junior goalie turned aside.UMass went on a 30-second power play late in the second period and capitalized when Greg Mauldin (Holliston, Mass.) found the back of the net from the left face-off circle. Jeff Lang (Westwood, Mass.) attempted a crossing pass to Mauldin that got deflected by a Wildcat stick. Mauldin one-timed a shot that caught Ayers out of position and beat him stick-side at the 14:40 mark to knot the score at two apiece. Werner picked up his second point of the game with an assist on the goal. The Minutemen dodged a major bullet with about two minutes to play in the stanza, as UNH had kicked in a goal that was disallowed by an early whistle to keep the game tied. The Minutemen dominated the second period, outshooting the Wildcats, 12-7, to rally to tie the game at two entering the third period.
UMass had a golden opportunity to start the third period on a two-minute power play that had carried over from the end of the second period. The Minutemen had one good look from close-range but Tim Turner's (Saginaw, Mich.) shot was deflected by a UNH stick. The Wildcats then killed off the rest of the penalty, and took a 3-2 lead just 3:17 into the third period on a pretty goal. Patrick Foley hit Tyler Scott in front of the net, catching Winer out of position for the wide-open net and the lead. The goal was Scott's fifth of the season. The Wildcats took a two-goal lead at 4-2 after a UMass turnover in the UNH zone. Steve Saviano lifted a shot past Winer into the top left corner at the 6:43 mark.
The Minutemen then mounted their second rally of the day. UMass narrowed the UNH advantage to 4-3 at the 9:40 mark on Werner's second goal of the game. Werner again used a great individual effort to get the power-play netter. Werner poked the puck loose from under Ayers' pads with assists by Marvin Degon (Millbury, Mass.) and Thomas Pöck (Klagenfurt, Austria) and despite protests from the Wildcats the goal was allowed and UMass was back in the game. The UMass faithful didn't have time to sit down when the Minutemen tied the game at 4-4 just 10 seconds later. Turner flipped a shot top-shelf on a 2-on-1 breakaway with junior Mike Warner (Waltham, Mass.) at the 9:50 mark. The goal was Turner's 15th of the season.New Hampshire, however, got the next goal of the game to take a 5-4 lead at the 17:01 mark on a 3-on-2 breakaway goal by Preston Callandar. Head Coach Don Cahoon pulled Winer with 1:36 in an attempt to get the equalizer, and nearly got it by Warner with about eight seconds to play, but Ayers came up with one more big save to end the game.
UMass' season ends at 19-17-1 overall, its most successful season since joining Hockey East in 1994-95. The Minutemen will lose only two seniors in co-captains Tim Turner and Kelly Sickavish (North Vancouver, British Columbia) off a team that recorded its second most wins in school history and the most in Hockey East history with 10.