Junior forward Branden Gracel scores goal and assist for Minutemen

Junior Branden Gracel scored a goal and an assist for the Minutemen

AMHERST, Mass. - The UMass hockey team used a trio of third period goals to lift the squad to a 5-2 victory over Maine on Saturday night at the Mullins Center. Following the win, the Minutemen improve to 11-17-2 overall, 8-14-1 in Hockey East games, while the Black Bears drop to 9-17-6 on the season and 5-12-6 in conference action.

Four UMass players had multi-point nights against Maine as juniors Conor Sheary and Branden Gracel registered a goal and an assist apiece, while senior Rocco Carzo and junior Joel Hanley each had a pair of helpers.

The Minutemen opened the scoring 5:51 into the first period. After winning a neutral zone faceoff, redshirt sophomore Steven Guzzo sent the puck ahead to Carzo who skated into Maine's end and fired a puck in on Martin Ouellette. Ouellette made the initial stop, but junior Adam Phillips was there to clean up the rebound in the slot to put the Minutemen on the board with his fifth of the season.

Gracel then increased UMass' advantage to 2-0 less than two minutes later. Hanley collected the puck and sent a pass to Conor Sheary who found Gracel streaking up the left side. After crossing the blue line, Gracel rocketed a slap shot into the top right corner of the Black Bears' net at the 7:47 mark.

However, Maine responded with a two-goal second period. On the first power play of the game for either squad, Jake Rutt's shot from the point off a feed from Devin Shore and Ben Hutton tucked inside the left post at 5:36.

The Black Bears then came through with the equalizer soon after. Bill Norman's wrister from the right side found its way past Minuteman netminder Steve Mastalerz 7:16 into the period. Klas Leidermark and Andrew Cerretani earned assists on the play.

Just four seconds after an abbreviated UMass power play had expired, sophomore Zack LaRue banged home a puck at the doorstep from Carzo off an initial shot by Gracel 2:55 into the third. The tally was not only LaRue's second of his career, but second game-winner.

Sheary gave the Minutemen some insurance at the 13:35 mark, driving in a one-timer from the right faceoff circle from Hanley and junior Conor Allen.

Senior Kevin Czepiel capped off the victory with his empty net goal from classmates Eddie Olczyk and Darren Rowe at 19:16.

UMass finished the night with a 27-25 shot advantage and won 32 of 58 faceoffs, led by a 14-for-16 performance above the dots by Gracel. Mastalerz totaled 23 saves for the Minutemen, while Ouellette made 22 stops for Maine. UMass and Maine were 0-for-3 and 1-for-4 on the power play in the contest, respectively.

The Minutemen next travel to New Hampshire for a two-game series beginning on Friday night, March, 1 in Durham, N.H.