BOSTON - It came down to a third-period shoot-out, but defending Hockey East Tournament champion and 2003 regular-season co-champion New Hampshire advanced to Saturday night's Hockey East championship game where it will face the winner of the Boston College - Boston University semifinal. Sophomore wing Preston Callander (Regina, Sask.) broke a 4-4 tie with 2:29 to play in regulation to give the top-seeded Wildcats the win. Sixth-seeded UMass had twice battled back from a two-goal deficit to tie the game. The win pushed third-ranked UNH to 24-7-6 on the season, while UMass fell to 19-17-10.
Callander broke into the UMass zone, collected a pass from sophomore center Justin Aikins (South Surrey, B.C.) and scored with a high shot to Minutemen goaltender Gabe Winer's (Stoughton, Mass.) blocker side. The goal capped a frenzied third period that saw five goals - three by UNH and two by UMass.
Both teams had trouble breaking into the scoring column in the first period until UNH scored twice in the final three minutes of the stanza. At 17:06, junior center Tim Horst (So. St. Paul, Minn.) staked the Wildcats to a 1-0 lead when he tipped in senior defenseman Kevin Truelson's (Avon, Mass.) shot from the left point for the power-play goal. Sophomore wing Steve Saviano (Reading, Mass.) was also credited with an assist. Just over a minute later at 18:08, senior center Josh Prudden (Andover, Mass.) extended UNH's lead to 2-0 when his shot from the right boards floated under the crossbar and past Winer. Senior wing Lanny Gare (Vernon, B.C.) dropped the puck back to Prudden to set up the score.
UMass - making its first-ever appearance in the Hockey East Tournament semifinals - came out of the dressing room swarming in the second period, out-shooting the Wildcats (12-7) and eventually tying the score at 2-2.
The Minutemen cut their deficit in half when freshman wing Stephen Werner (Chevy Chase, Md.) - a member of the 2003 All-Rookie team - broke in from the blue line for the score at 8:24. He went into the zone one-on-two, but faked out the two UNH defensemen and scored on an off-balance shot from the right face-off circle. Junior defensemen Nick Kuiper (Beaconsfield, Que.) set up the play from the Minutemen's defensive zone before making a line change.
Hockey East Coach of the Year Don Cahoon's squad knotted the score at 12:40 when sophomore winger Greg Mauldin (Holliston, Mass.) scored on a power play with a slap shot from the left face-off circle. He took defenseman Jeff Lang's (Westwood, Mass.) pass from the slot and rocketed a shot past the Hockey Easy Co-Player of the Year, UNH goaltender Mike Ayers (Hingham, Mass.). Werner was also credited with an assist.
At 3:17 of the third period, junior wing Tyler Scott (Rockville, Md.) banked in a pass from junior captain Patrick Foley (Milton, Mass.) to break the tie score and regain the Wildcat advantage. Foley broke up a clearing attempt behind the UMass net and found Scott streaking in from the blue line alone for the goal. Saviano extended the Wildcats' advantage to 4-2 at 6:43 when he played a give-and-go with junior center Nathan Martz (Chilliwack, B.C.) for a goal. Saviano stripped a UMass defender in the zone, circled around several Minutemen and found Martz on the boards, who then passed off to Saviano who powered to the net.
The Minutemen then scored twice in 10 seconds to knot the score for the second time. Werner scored his second of the game at 9:40 on the power play when he poked home a rebound of defenseman Marvin Degon's (Millbury, Mass.) point shot after Ayers made the initial save. Junior defenseman Thomas Pöck (Klagenfurt, Austria) was also credited with an assist. Seconds later, senior captain Tim Turner (Saginaw, Mich.) brought the score to 4-4 when he collected junior center Mike Warner's (Waltham, Mass.) pass in the slot and slammed a shot past Ayers at 9:50.
For the game, UMass out-shot the Wildcats, 30-28. Ayers made 26 saves for UNH while Winer made 23 saves. Ayers improved his record to 23-7-6, while Winer fell to 17-12-1.