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In its seventh overtime game of the season, junior Vinny Saponari sent the Northeastern men's hockey team to its first triumph in extra time as the Huskies bested Massachusetts 22 seconds into overtime for the 4-3 victory on Friday night at Matthews Arena.
Third-year forward Robbie Vrolyk supported Northeastern's efforts thanks to a two-goal performance while rookie Adam Reid netted the other tally in regulation. Vrolyk has notched three goals in his last two games as his last two-goal outing came at UMass on Feb. 13, 2010.
The Huskies defense did not let Massachusetts register a shot on net until 9:17 of the first period, but the Minutemen still edged Northeastern in shots, 32-30. Junior goaltender Chris Rawlings steered aside 29 shots in his 11th triumph (11-10-3) of the season while UMass goalie Kevin Boyle slipped to 5-4-4 with 26 saves on the night.
Northeastern has been on the short end of overtime contests as of late, losing three in OT and skating to the same number of draws. Saponari's walk-off tally was the Huskies first since Jamie Oleksiak ended a game at UMass Lowell on Feb. 11, 2011. That game occurred in between the Beanpot Tournament last season. It was also Northeastern's first victory over UMass in four tries with the last win falling at home on Jan. 28, 2011 (3-0).
Northeastern set the precedent early on Vrolyk's tally just 1:52 into the contest. The Huskies cycled around the UMass zone as junior Alex Tuckerman generated the play from goal line extended to Boyle's left. Tuckerman passed up to sophomore Zak Stone on top of the right circle. Stone blasted one at Boyle's blocker, forcing the disc to ricochet to an unbothered Vrolyk on the far post. Vrolyk pushed back the puck to give Northeastern the 1-0 advantage.
After a Danny Hobbs holding call at 4:32, Adam Reid made the Minutemen pay in power play fashion and doubled up the lead, 2-0. Junior Drew Daniels triggered the scoring play by sliding the puck over to senior Mike McLaughlin for a wide-open shot from the left dot. McLaughlin targeted Boyle with the rip, but puck was jarred loose in front of the net and Reid was able to stuff the rebound with the backhand at 6:27.
UMass killed off a Kevin Czepiel trip (9:07) and then responded with its own power play tally at 13:37. Rookie Dan Cornell went off at 12:13 (tripping) and the Minutemen took advantage of a loose puck in front of Rawlings. The disc was dumped in from the side and Michael Pereira was the last one to get a touch on it before it went of the goal line. Colin Shea and Branden Gracel earned the assist by getting touches in the scrum to make it 2-1.
About four minutes later, a long possession in the Huskies' end yielded another Minutemen tally at 17:04. Rawlings was knocked off his bearing in net and the puck bobbled around NU's netminder for a minute before it shot out to the slot. The puck hoped over a couple Husky defenders right out to Darren Rowe. Rowe gathered it quickly and zipped it back under Rawlings' pad to tie it up, 2-2.
The Huskies went on the extra man after an Eric Filiou high-stick at 18:28 of the first, but Massachusetts killed it off and channeled it into its first lead of the night at the 2:12 mark of the second period.
UMass gained possession in neutral territory and descended on Northeastern's goal. The Minutemen crowded the pipes and after a shot from Conor Sheary, the puck was spit out to Pereira on the left dot. Pereira took advantage of Rawlings' vulnerable position and banked it off his right leg for the 3-2 edge.
Northeastern answered over three minutes later on Vrolyk's second marker of the night at 5:37. The Huskies responded in similar fashion as UMass' second goal after Vrolyk was the beneficiary of a loose puck in between the circles thanks to the work of junior Alex Tuckerman and McLaughlin. The two forwards dug the disc out of a scrum in front of Boyle and Vrolyk tossed a change-up under Boyle's right pad to cinch it back up, 3-3.
Junior Garrett Vermeersch gave Massachusetts a sizeable advantage as the second period expired. Vermeersch was given a five-minute major for elbowing (20:00), but the Minutemen were not able to take advantage in the extended window. One grade-A chance came for each team, including Pereira's rip off the pipe and sophomore Braden Pimm's crafty deke in front of Boyle. Both
With a second left in Vermeersch's call, UMass was called for too many men at 4:59. The Huskies had a couple takes on the power play, but could not dupe Boyle.
Both penalty-killing unit shined as the third stanza came to an end. Colin Shea (13:12) and rookie Joseph Manno (15:47) caused the power plays and both squads traded blows with the extra skater. Once the penalties let out, the tempo escalated and the transition game closed out regulation.
It didn't take long for the Huskies to end it after Saponari's dribbler found its way through Boyle's pads. Freshman Ludwig Karlsson started the scoring play along the far boards and dumped it into Vermeersch behind the net. Vermeersch made two stick handles and quickly popped the puck out to Saponari on the far post. Saponari made a swat at it and the puck made its way over the goal line just 22 seconds into the extra session.
Northeastern will make its way to Causeway St. for the 60th annual Beanpot Tournament with a first-round matchup against No. 7 Boston College at the TD Garden on Monday, Feb. 6. Monday's Beanpot contest against BC will be broadcast live on NESN in HD. Game time is schedule for puck drop.