At 16:26 in the first period, Jason Salvaggio potted a goal to give the Wildcats a 2-1 lead. The primary assist was credited to senior forward Tyler Kelleher, which was at the time, his first point of the evening. To the dismay of the UMass Amherst Minutemen, Kelleher would go on to tally four more, which resulted in a career-high five-point night for the Longmeadow, Massachusetts native.
Kelleher’s career night pushed UNH to its third win at the Whittemore Center, a convincing 6-2 victory over the UMass Minutemen on Friday, Nov. 18. Kelleher was the first Wildcat to eclipse the five-point mark since Nov. 24, 2012 when Kevin Goumas hit that mark against the University of Denver. Kelleher was pleased to be mentioned in the same light as Goumas.
“[Goumas] is one of the most talented players I have ever played with, so it’s pretty cool,” Kelleher said. “The bounces were going my way tonight.”
Along with Kelleher’s performance, Salvaggio once again had the hot stick with two goals of his own. Michael McNicholas added his third consecutive power-play goal and the Wildcats posted their second six-goal performance of the season. Goaltender Danny Tirone made a season-high 37 saves, which included 17 in the third period.
“It can get tough when you are protecting a lead but Tirone made some key saves,” head coach Dick Umile said. “He’s feeling good about himself right now and that’s a good thing.”
Despite being outshot in every period, and overall by a 37-21 margin, Tirone kept the Minutemen to two goals offensively, and posted a .945 save percentage. Tirone states that having a substantial lead helps that cause significantly.
“Having a lead is certainly nice, especially if its three goals going into the third [period],” Tirone said. “At the same time you can’t lose any intensity [because] that’s when teams come back in games. That’s happened to us, and that’s happened for us before.”
Patrick Grasso got things started quickly for the ‘Cats, as he scored his team-leading tenth goal of the season at 1:41 in the first stanza. The first period was not a measure of the result, as both teams exchanged multiple leads. Ivan Chukarov ripped a shot from the point at 13:03 to tie things up. Salvaggio’s first goal regained the lead for the ‘Cats, but was quickly stripped when first-line Minutemen forward Austin Plevy knotted up the score at two at 18:01, which stood as the score going into the first intermission.
The final 40 minutes was an offensive blowout at the hands of the Wildcats. Salvaggio, McNicholas and Kelleher on the power play and Jamie Hill, who scored his first goal of the season, contributed to four unanswered goals to seal the victory and two points in the Hockey East standings. The ‘Cats displayed solid execution in special teams as well, going 2-3 on the man-advantage and a perfect 5-5 on the penalty kill.
“That power play first unit has become a threat,” Umile said crediting the special teams’ recent success. “They’re moving the puck well.”
The ‘Cats now climb back to a .500 record of 5-5-2, and a 3-1-1 record in Hockey East. They play one more home game before turkey day that features Renssealaer Polytechnic Institute on Tuesday, Nov. 22. On Saturday, Nov. 26, the ‘Cats head to the Big Apple to take on Cornell University in the Frozen Apple game at Madison Square Garden.