DURHAM, N.H. - Senior John Henrion (Holden, Mass.) scored the first hat trick of his career, and Casey DeSmith (Rochester, N.H.) turned aside 25 shots for his sixth career shutout as the fifth-ranked University of New Hampshire men's hockey team blanked Massachusetts, 4-0, in Saturday night's Hockey East contest at the Whittemore Center to take over sole possession of first place in the league standings.
UNH upped its record to 18-8-6 and 13-7-5 in Hockey East for 31 points and first place, one ahead of Boston College, UMass-Lowell and Providence. UMass slipped to 11-18-3, 8-15-2 to remain in a tie with Maine for the eighth and final HEA playoff spot.
Casey Thrush (Easton, Md.) assisted on all three Henrion goals, with the last -Henrion's 13th of the year- coming via an empty-netter at 19:32 of the third.
Henrion's first goal of the night came at 1:10 of the first period. Nick Sorkin (Rockville, Md.), who tallied two assists, forced a turnover at the Minutemen blue line, setting up a 2-on-1 with Thrush feeding Henrion at the far post for the 1-0 lead.
Henrion's second goal of the second period came at 10:43 during the waning seconds of a power play. The senior dug the puck off the left wall, curled to the slot and wristed the puck into the top right corner of the net for a 2-0 lead. Brett Kostolansky (Denver, Colo.) had the primary assist, with Thrush tacking on the secondary helper.
Matt Willows (Congers, N.Y.) staked the Wildcats to a 3-0 lead at 6:06 of the third period. Willows snuck behind the Minutemen blue-liners on a broken play and sniped his fifth of the season past Steve Mastalerz.
UNH outshot UMass 10-5 in a scoreless first period, edged the Minutemen 12-10 in second-period shots and -6-notched an 11-10 advantage in the third for a 33-25 game advantage.
DeSmith, who improved to 17-6-6 on the season, registered his fifth shutout of the year. He ranks second nationally and first in Hockey East in that category. Mastalerz stopped 29 shots but saw his record fall to 3-7-1.
UNH and UMass split the season series, 1-1-1, with the 'Cats earning three points over the two-game weekend set.
The Wildcats close out the regular season with a two-game 'White Out the Whitt' weekend series against the University of Maine at the Whittemore Center, beginning with a 7:30 p.m. matchup Friday, March 8, live on NBC Sports Network. Saturday's game is at 4 p.m. for Senior Night with coverage on NESN. For tickets, visit www.unhwildcats.com or call (603) 862-4000, extension 5.