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UMass hockey falls to Northeastern in overtime

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts hockey team wasted an opportunity to distance itself in the race for the final playoff spot in the Hockey East tournament, as it fell 5-4 to Northeastern in overtime at the Mullins Center on Tuesday.

The Minutemen (10-16-2, 7-13-1) held a 4-3 lead late in the third period, as well as leads of 3-1 and 1-0.

With a win, UMass would have created three points of separation between itself and ninth-place Maine with six games remaining, while dealing a significant blow to the last-place Huskies’ playoff aspirations. Instead, Maine and Northeastern (9-16-3, 5-13-3) remain one point behind the Minutemen.

“Every point in league is crucial and we missed out on an opportunity tonight,” said UMass coach John Micheletto. “Nobody’s going to hand you two points, especially in the league, especially in February.”

Northeastern defender Josh Hanson scored the game winner with 56 seconds remaining in overtime. Hanson started the play himself with a strong defensive play to thwart a UMass 3-on-2. The Huskies went on the counterattack, and Mike McMurtry (three assists) found a trailing Hanson, who proceeded to blast a slap shot past UMass goalie Steve Mastalerz (40 saves).

“That was a really good defensive play that turned into a good offensive play,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan.

UMass jumped out to a 3-1 lead through the first 22 minutes of the game. Freshman Shane Walsh and sophomore Michael Pereira (two goals, one assist) tallied to give the Minutemen a 2-1 first-quarter lead. Darren Rowe extended the lead, 2 minutes, 4 seconds into the second period.

Instead of putting the game away, UMass left the door open. Northeastern hopped on an error by Mastalerz midway into the second period, when the sophomore, attempting to pass to a teammate from behind his net, left it for McMurtry, who passed to Robbie Vrolyk for an easy goal.

The Huskies tied the game at 3-3 on Cody Ferriero’s power-play goal at the 16:28 mark of the second period.

“You got a two-goal lead, we need to maintain the puck, maintain the momentum,” said Micheletto. “Giving up those next two is not the way we play.”

UMass took back a 4-3 lead with 1:07 left in the second thanks to a superb individual goal from Pereira. The junior sped past a defender on a breakaway, then deftly slid the puck around Husky goalkeeper Chris Rawlings (28 saves).

Rawlings was replaced by Bryan Mountain after two periods. Mountain earned the win and collected seven saves.

The final period was defined by sloppy Minutemen play, and myriad scoring opportunities for the Huskies. Vrolyk finally cashed in and sent the game into overtime with 6:53 remaining. He easily cut through the UMass defense untouched and beat Mastalerz top-right. Adam Reid assisted on the play.

UMass’ Colin Shea registered two assists, while Steven Guzzo, Conor Sheary, Patrick Kiley, Adam Phillips and K.J. Tiefenwerth each had one.

UMass has a crucial home-and-home series with Maine this weekend. The Minutemen tied the Black Breaks 2-2 in Orono, Maine, on Nov. 16.

Micheletto hopes his team doesn’t approach the games any differently, despite the magnitude.

“When we tee’d it up against UConn to start the season it’s the same way we need to tee it up Friday night against Maine,” said Micheletto.

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