AMHERST, Mass. - The last time it happened was in 2003-04, but on Saturday night in Amherst, UMass Hockey (18-11-5, 15-9-3 HEA) made it happen again: the Minutemen will get home ice for the first round of the Hockey East tournament after a thrilling 5-3 win over No. 9 Maine (21-12-2, 14-12-1 HEA). Massachusetts battled back from a 2-1 deficit and held off a late Maine rally to take their 12th home win of the season in front of 8,221 fans. UMass will host Maine again next weekend, with the best-of-three series opening on March 9 at 7 p.m.
All four seniors-Matt Anderson, Chris Capraro, Kevin Jarman and Mark Matheson- were honored pregame, graduating as the winningest class in UMass' history since the program was reinstated. As the game would end, three of four would factor into the scoring.
Matheson put a fitting spin on his senior night, scoring the game's opening goal on a two-on-one at 18:37. On the penalty kill with Scott Crowder in the box, P.J. Fenton was able to carry the puck over the blueline and pass it up to Matheson, who skated in on Dave Wilson and took the shot from between the circles. Cory Quirk also assisted on the play. The shorthander was UMass' first of the season, as well as Matheson's first of his collegiate career.
The Black Bears had a golden opportunity to even things up, getting 36 seconds of a 5-on-3 opportunity and cashing in with 11 seconds remaining of the two-man advantage. Michel Léveillé scored his 17th of the season from inside the near circle at 19:35, assisted by Mike Lundin and Josh Soares.
The Minutemen were able to kill off the remaining 1:36 that carried over into the second, but Maine was able to gain the 2-1 edge with Léveillé's second goal of the game at 5:49. His shot from inside the blueline weaved its way through traffic and found the back of the net for his seventh of the season, assisted by Travis Ramsey and Matt Duffy.
The Black Bears had a goal taken away shortly after, as referee Joe Andrews ruled a hand pass on the play, but Maine continued to hold a decided advantage in shots. No matter to the Minutemen, who knotted the game at two apiece with Alex Berry's fifth of the year at 14:15. Cory Quirk and Chris Capraro skated into the zone, Quirk making a pass to Capraro near the Maine net. He slid the puck to an open Berry at the near side, lifting the puck in for the 2-2 score.
Through two, shots were 29-11 in favor of the Black Bears.
Another senior got into the scoring as Anderson intercepted a bad Maine pass and made good with his team-leading sixth power play goal of the season at 7:53. The unassisted goal gave the Minutemen the lead for the second time in the game.
Junior Matt Burto added an insurance goal on the power play at 17:08. He cleaned up a rebound on a Berry shot and backhanded it into the net. Fenton was also credited with an assist on the play, his second of the night.
With Chris Davis in the box for interference late in the game, Maine cut the deficit to one with a power play goal of their own at 18:44 by Billy Ryan. Black Bear goalie Dave Wilson was pulled with less than one minute remaining, but Maine was unable to tie the game as UMass' Brett Watson put home his first collegiate goal on an empty net with 0:02 remaining, capturing home ice for the Minutemen.
Overall, shots were 35-23 in favor of the visitors. Jon Quick made 32 saves, while his counterpart made 18. Both teams netted two goals with the man advantage: UMass going 2-for-5; Maine going 2-for-6.
For ticket information for next week's series, call 1-866 UMASS TIX. More information will be made available in the coming days.