BOSTON, MA – With the loss of two of its leading scorers, Northeastern needed a quick start and a victory to boost momentum heading into the final few weeks of the Hockey East season.
The Huskies can check both off the list, as they won 4-3 over the University of Massachusetts Minutemen in an overtime thriller at Matthews Arena on Friday night.
“Obviously it’s two big points for us,” Northeastern coach Jim Madigan said. “It was a four-point game that we were fortunate to get in our own building.
[The Minutemen] always works hard, they are well-coached and they play the game fast.”
It was a wacky first period for both sides, as the teams traded a pair of goals each to head to the break at 2-2. The Huskies dominated the early stages before UMass took the momentum to draw level later in the period.
At 1:52, junior Robbie Vrolyk scored just his second goal of the season, from an initial shot from sophomore Zak Stone. The Boylston, Mass. native was on the spot on the left post to chip the puck past Minuteman rookie netminder Kevin Boyle.
The Huskies doubled their lead on the man-advantage at the 6:27 mark as freshman Adam Reid backhanded a rebound past Boyle off captain Mike McLaughlin’s initial shot.
“The first ten minutes of the game were pretty bleak from my perspective,” said Minuteman head coach Don Cahoon. “Our net-front defense was non-existent, they were winning all the sprints and it looked like it was going to be a long night.”
With UMass on the power play just over 12 minutes into the period, junior Vinny Saponari beat Boyle on a shot that hit the post and bounced back to the right corner.
At 13:37, the Minutemen got on the scoreboard via sophomore Michael Pereira’s tenth goal of the season, beating NU’s goaltender Chris Rawlings on a gritty rebound in the crease. Fellow sophomore Colin Shea’s initial shot set up the goal to make it 2-1.
Just over three minutes later, UMass tied the game through Darren Rowe’s first of the season. Rawlings was out of position as Rowe beat the junior goalie with a shot through a screen from between the circles.
The teams traded goals in the second stanza. Pereira potted his second of the game at the 2:12 mark of the second period, beating Rawlings on another rebound through traffic to give UMass a temporary lead.
But that advantage was short-lived as Vrolyk scored his second of the contest, beating Boyle through the five-hole at the 5:37 mark, following a strong defensive-zone sequence by the Minutemen.
“We were just battling down low,” Vrolyk said. “Trying to get some cycle pressure on them. We just won a battle, threw it on net and it went in. Nothing special really.”
Entering the game, Vrolyk’s only other goal this season came during last Saturday’s victory at Vermont – a contest during which he also added an assist.
UMass controlled the second period with a 29-14 edge in total chances, including 15-10 in shots on goal.
“In the second period, we put on a completely different game,” UMass coach Cahoon said. “We sprinted, we won battles, made some plays, scored a nice goal, and I thought we created a lot of opportunities for ourselves.”
NU junior Garrett Vermeersch was called for a major elbowing penalty as time expired in the second period, giving the Minutemen a full 2-minute man advantage to open the final frame. The Huskies defense was strong for the duration of the infraction as they killed it off with little trouble.
After some solid back-and-forth action in the final five minutes of regulation the teams ended in a stalemate, sending the game to overtime.
However, overtime was brief, as Huskies’ junior Vinny Saponari’s scored just 22 seconds into the extra session. His shot came from the right side and beat Boyle five-hole through traffic in front of the net.
“Resiliency and the willingness to continue competing,” coach Madigan said were the keys to his team’s win.
“We’ve been up a couple times this year by a couple goals and have given them back. It was good to reverse the fortunes a little bit. [The team] showed some composure on the bench.”
Cahoon was understandably disappointed with the loss but especially with his side’s lack of composure in overtime.
“What really sickens me, since the game could have gone either way, is how the game ended,” Cahoon said.
“We played our butts off in the second and third periods, putting ourselves in position to win a game. Then we made a lazy defensive read and quite honestly gave up a very soft goal from the net out.”
Rawlings finished the contest with 29 saves as he improved to 11-10-3, sealing the Huskies’ third win in a row since last weekend’s sweep at Vermont. Boyle made 26 stops, falling to 5-4-4.
Northeastern returns to action on Monday evening when it faces the No. 7 Eagles in a re-match of last February’s Beanpot title game. UMass is back in action on Saturday, hosting No. 4 Merrimack at Mullins Center.
Before tonight’s game, Madigan announced that sophomore Cody Ferriero and junior Steve Quailer would miss extended time, including Monday’s Beanpot opener with Boston College.