By Josh Brown
Despite three, late third period UMass-Amherst (8-19-4) goals, the Northeastern Huskies (17-10-3) were able to outlast the Minutemen 5-4, to claim fourth place in Hockey East at the end of the weekend. The 17th win on the season for Northeastern is its highest win total since the 2008-2009 season.
The Huskies struck first, getting on the board at 14:53 of the first period on a Kevin Roy goal, after a little back and forth passing between Roy and Mike Szmatula led to the puck sailing over the glove side of Minutemen goalie Steve Mastalerz, to give the Huskies the early lead.
Despite the 1-0 lead, and only being out shot 11-10 in the first period, the consensus was that Northeastern was being outplayed by UMass, who displayed an array of finesse and physical play in the first 20. Also in the first period, Huskies freshman Dalen Hedges suffered an undisclosed injury, and did not return to the game in what was the first of an injury filled night for Northeastern.
At 3:43 in the second period Northeastern extended their lead to 2-0 on Adam Reid’s 6th goal of the season, moments after Clay Witt made what could be considered the save of the night, diving to stop a UMass shot to keep the lead for Huskies.
UMass answered late in the second period on Ben Gallacher’s first goal of the season, before being promptly matched two minutes later on a Ryan Belonger goal assisted by Kevin Roy, making the score 3-1 Northeastern at the end of the second.
The action really started to pick up in the third as at just 1:53 in the period Tanner Pond found the back of the net after tipping a Zach Aston-Reese shot by the blocker of Mastalerz. Less than three minutes later Aston-Reese got on the scoreboard himself on a breakaway to give the Huskies what seemed like an insurmountable 5-1 lead.
The Minutemen wouldn’t roll over as just 10 seconds later Michael Pereira got his 10th goal of the season shorthanded to cut the lead to 5-2. Still playing shorthanded, captain Conor Sheary also snuck one past Clay Witt to get UMass within two.
Still chipping away, midway through the period Zack LaRue cut the lead to one, scoring on a tip from a Colin Shea shot which was set up by Ray Pigozzi.
That would be as close as the Minutemen would get though, as Northeastern was able to close out UMass and take the 5-4 victory behind 32 saves by Clay Witt. That total is the third straight game for Witt where he has made more than 30 saves.
Northeastern finished the game with only three defensemen after two injuries, most notable Josh Manson, as well as a Mike Gunn 10-minute misconduct with 4:45 left to play in the game.
Northeastern Head Coach Jim Madigan was happy to escape Amherst with two points, after what was almost a drastic collapse by the Huskies.
“I like the resiliency that we showed, I liked the way we continued to battle all the way through,” Madigan continued, “obviously I don’t like giving up a four goal lead and holding on, but we’ll take the two points…”
The Huskies will now look ahead to a huge two game home stand against Maine on Friday and Saturday, with four crucial Hockey East points at stake for both the third place Black Bears and the fourth place Huskies.