DURHAM, N.H. - Jerry Pollastrone (Revere, Mass.) scored two goals to lead the fourth-ranked University of New Hampshire men's ice hockey team to Friday night's 4-1 victory against the University of Massachusetts to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three quarterfinal series.
UNH, the top seed in the 24th Annual Hockey East Championship Tournament by virtue of a 19-5-3 league record in the regular season, improved to 24-8-3. UMass, which entered the series as the eighth seed with a 9-13-5 league record and three consecutive wins, is now 14-15-6. Game 2 of series is March 15 (7 p.m.) at the Whittemore Center and Game 3, if necessary, will be March 16 (7 p.m.) at the Whittemore Center.
The Wildcats, who outscored the opposition 51-28 in the third period during the regular season, broke a 1-1 tie at 4:15 of the final frame, struck again at 9:29 and tallied an empty-net goal with 46 seconds remaining to upend the visitors.
UNH goalie Kevin Regan (South Boston, Mass.) recorded 35 saves overall, including 13 in both the first and third periods. UMass goalie Paul Dainton, who was pulled in favor of an extra skater following a Minutemen timeout at 18:01, stopped 23 shots.
Matt Fornataro (Calgary, Alberta), alone in the slot, broke the 1-1 tie when he fired a shot off the rebound into the upper-left side of the net. Danny Dries (Lake Orion, Mich.), with the initial shot from the right doorstep, and Mike Radja (Yorkville, Ill.) set up what proved to be the game-winning tally.
Dries nearly gave the 'Cats a two-goal lead at 7:00 of the third as he stickhandled around a defenseman in the slot and lifted a shot off the right post.
The game changed dramatically in the 10th minute. UMass' Michael Kostka's shot from the left point ricocheted to the slot, where Jordan Virtue lifted a high shot that Regan directed over the net. New Hampshire quickly counterattacked and Mike Sislo (Superior, Wis.) moved the puck from the right half-boards to Thomas Fortney (Webster Grove, Mo.), who in turn found Greg Collins (Fairport, N.Y.) on the left side for the goal.
UMass generated a 3-on-2 rush less than 30 seconds later and a cross-ice pass found Alexander Berry alone in the left circle. Regan slid across the crease to deny Berry's bid and preserve the Wildcats' newly formed two-goal advantage.
Regan turned Berry away again at 12:30, this time on the right doorstep after Berry maneuvered around a defenseman in the right circle.
Dainton then did his part to keep UMass within two goals when he slid to the left post to stop Fornataro on a breakaway bid.
The Minutemen called time out with 1:59 remaining and, with the faceoff in their offensive end, took the ice with an empty net. With just over one minute remaining, Berry's screened shot from the left point caromed off the left post.
UNH cleared the puck out of the zone, and as UMass attempted another rush James vanRiemsdyk (Middletown, N.J.) poke checked the puck free near mid-ice, Pollastrone gathered the loose puck and fired a shot into the open net to secure the win.
The Minutemen took a 1-0 lead at 2:28 of the first period when William Ortiz' shot from the left circle beat Regan, who had stopped Ortiz' initial two shots at the left post. Brett Watson, with the pass behind the net to Ortiz to set up his flurry of shots, and Matt Burto were credited with assists.
UNH pulled even, 1-1, at 6:24 when Pollastrone blocked a UMass shot and raced behind the Minuteman to corral the puck at mid-ice to generated a breakaway. Pollastrone charged down the slot and his close-range wrist shot was stopped by Dainton, but backward momentum carried himself and the puck across the goal line.
In the scoreless second stanza, the 'Cats generated a pair of dangerous scoring chances in the closing minutes. UNH created a shorthanded odd-man rush in the 15th minute when Pollatstrone advanced the puck out of the defensive zone to Bobby Butler (Marlboro, Mass.). He carried into the right circle and centered a pass back to Kevin Kapstad (Boxboro, Mass.), whose shot from the high slot was turned away by Dainton. Then with 2:30 to play in the period, Dainton yielded a rebound off Brad Flashains' (Glendale, Ariz.) screened shot from the right point. vanRiemsdyk fired a quick shot at the right doorstep that Dainton enveloped.
New Hampshire has won 10 of 11 quarterfinal series when winning the first game and that includes nine two-game sweeps; the only series loss occurred in 2001 (vs. UMass-Lowell).
This is just the second time in Hockey East tournament history that UNH and UMass face off in the quarterfinals. The Wildcats, who are hosting a quarterfinal series for the 12th consecutive season, swept the Minutemen in 1997.