UMass hockey: Early goal the difference as Maine blanks Minutemen 1-0

UMass forward Michael Cameron (27) tracks down a loose puck behind the Maine net during the Minutemen’s 1-0 Hockey East loss on Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass forward Michael Cameron (27) tracks down a loose puck behind the Maine net during the Minutemen’s 1-0 Hockey East loss on Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

UMass forward Cam O’Neill (8) carries the puck behind the Maine net during the Minutemen’s 1-0 Hockey East loss on Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass forward Cam O’Neill (8) carries the puck behind the Maine net during the Minutemen’s 1-0 Hockey East loss on Saturday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

By JESSE KOLODKIN

Berkshire Eagle

Published: 02-04-2024 10:18 AM

AMHERST – Maine’s Brandon Chabrier got out on a breakaway, was 1-on-1 with UMass goalie Michael Hrabal and fired a laser bottom left just 1 minute, 16 seconds into Saturday’s game.

That early goal turned out to be the game winner.

No. 6 Maine hung on to win 1-0 over No. 11 Massachusetts in front of a packed Mullins Center crowd. And while 7,737 people were eager to cheer on the Minutemen, there wasn’t much to cheer for Saturday night.

The Black Bears out-shot UMass 22-15, including an 11-3 advantage in the first period. But after the initial goal, Hrabal settled in and did an excellent job between the pipes. Late in the second period, he blocked four shots in a row and stood on his head for much of the night to keep UMass in it.

“I thought he was moving really well, made some big saves to keep it at [1-0]. We really focused to be a better defensive team in the second half,” said UMass head coach Greg Carvel. “The last three games we’ve given up two goals or less. That’s a big part. Michael, his game is rounding out and we gotta score some goals for him.”

While the Minutemen were far behind in terms of shots-on-goal, the numbers were a little misleading. UMass had half a dozen shots that ended up an inch too much to the left or three inches too high. Maine defenders also did a good job of getting in the way of shots heading toward their goal. 

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Aydar Suniev had a 1-on-1 opportunity but Maine goalie Albin Boija came up and made the save. Scott Morrow, Elliott McDermott, Samuli Niinisaari and Suniev all also had shots that were good, but slightly off target.

The Minutemen had a chance early in the second period. Ryan Ufko fired a shot from long range that was deflected by Boija. UMass got the rebound and Suniev passed to Cam O’Neill who wrapped around the right side of the goalie. The shot was deflected, but Michael Cameron was there on the left side and popped the puck in for what appeared to be the equalizer.

The horn and crowd sounded but the celebration was short-lived. UMass was offside in the build up to the play and after review, the goal was taken off the board. The Minutemen kept their composure, but the removal clearly took some wind out of UMass’ sails.

“I thought we were building momentum. If that goal would’ve counted maybe that leads to a few [more]. We got called down, we knew it was going to be offsides. Wanted to just keep rolling and thought we did keep going, did a good job of creating offense,” said Carvel.

Boija, a freshman, also recorded 15 saves and helped Maine keep its lead, despite UMass having three power play opportunities. 

“We started working him in more toward the second half here and he’s really composed. He doesn’t get overwhelmed and he’s got the right mentality to play in these type of games,” said Maine head coach Ben Barr. “It’s intense and high-stress as the season goes along. Thought he was really good today.”

The loss dropped UMass to 14-7-3 overall, 7-5-2 in Hockey East. The Minutemen have a home-and-home this weekend with UConn. They’ll be in Storrs on Friday before returning home Saturday to host the Huskies. 

“I don’t care what the shots were, look at the scoring chances, that’s what matters. Look at the scoring chances, our guys had a lot and they just didn’t hit the net. I heard the glass a lot tonight,” Carvel said. “Sometimes the shots on net give you a good feel for the game. But you watch the game and they out-shot us 2-to-1. Did it feel like they outplayed us 2-to-1? No.” 

It’s a tough loss for UMass but losing 1-0 to the No. 6 team in the country also shows how close the Minutemen are. 

“It was a good hockey game. We played a good hockey team,” Carvel said. “They’re not any better than we are.”