Amherst, MA- The Massachusetts Minutemen have enjoyed a dream start to the 2018-2019 season. They entered the weekend 8-1-0 and holding the nation’s fourth rank. Their star-studded cast of Cale Makar, Mario Ferraro, John Leonard, Matt Murray, and others has inspired new hockey fans in central and western Massachusetts. Meanwhile, Mike Souza has experienced his fair share of growing pains in his debut as New Hampshire’s head coach. The Wildcats entered the weekend with only a single win and an offense working to find itself. The team’s Friday night results highlighted the seasons perfectly.
UMass rode a strong third period to a 3-1 win at Holy Cross while UNH couldn’t close out Boston College on the road, finishing with a 2-2 draw. The programs going in different directions met at the Mullins Center to conclude the college hockey weekend on Sunday afternoon to entertaining and somewhat concerning results.
The first period laid the ground for the game’s themes: physicality, power plays, and close shots. Marcus Vela took a holding penalty 5:12 into the period and UMass capitalized. Cale Makar wristed a shot from the point and St. Lawrence transfer Jacob Pritchard tipped it down through UNH goalie Mike Robinson to take a 1-0 lead. Brett Boeing took an obstruction minor near the halfway point, but UNH was stymied by the UMass penalty kill.
In contrast, a second UNH penalty, this time a Brendan van Riemsdyk hook, resulted in another goal. Four seconds into the man advantage, Jacob Pritchard drew Robinson out of position and fired the puck to John Leonard for an open net tally. UMass led 2-0 on their special teams’ strength.
UNH hit hard to begin the second period, but UMass ballooned the lead off another mistake. This time, Eric Esposito sat for interference and Mitchell Chaffe mashed home the third power play goal in 28 minutes of play for UMass. UNH had an answer. Ara Nazarian created a breakaway and deked out Matt Murray to get New Hampshire on the board. On the same play, Jake McLaughlin sat for hooking. That power play didn’t lead to another goal, but UNH did claim momentum and were rewarded when Cale Makar sat for a questionable elbow minor and Charlie Kelleher scored his first goal of the season to cut the lead to 3-2.
As UNH gained momentum, John Leonard managed to steal it away from them. The star local kid blasted up the left boards and broke in on Robinson alone. Leonard’s initial shot was stopped, but Anthony Del Gaizo followed and tapped in the loose puck to extend the lead to 4-2 before intermission.
UMass dictated much of the third period’s pace, outshooting the Wildcats 13-4 and never allowing many opportunities for their Granite State guests. The death knell for the Wildcats came with 7:36 left in the game when Max Gildon was ejected for an illegal check to the head in his defensive ice. UMass took a five-minute major power play, but as opposed to their first three, UMass stood tall and killed the man advantage. They pulled Robinson for the final minutes and got a few shots on Matt Murray, but UNH didn’t have enough time to come back and lost 4-2 to the Minutemen.
Ara Nazarian is on a five-game point streak with his goal and Mike Robinson recorded 30 saves. UNH showed fight but dropped to 1-6-3 overall and 1-3-2 in Hockey East. Head Coach Mike Souza was visibly disappointed but still backed his team proudly. “You can’t give a talented team like that opportunities on the power play. I thought the kids worked. I thought they never gave up; not that I would expect them to, but I thought they played hard. I thought we competed. But we’ve gotta stay out of the box against talented teams.”
UNH returns to Durham after Thanksgiving for a two-game weekend match with the Miami(OH) Redhawks. Puck drops on Friday and Saturday at 7 pm at the Whittemore Center.
Massachusetts is off to their program’s best start with a 10-1-0 overall mark and a 6-0-0 Hockey East record. Jacob Pritchard and John Leonard both recorded three-point games. Leonard moves into a tie for fifth nationally in scoring with 5 goals, 11 assists, and 16 goals. Matt Murray made 18 saves on 20 shots faced, and many were high-quality UNH looks.
UMass Head Coach Greg Carvel was complimentary of his team but quickly directed focus to the next foe.
“That’s another solid win for our group,” Carvel said. “UNH can hurt you. They’re a good offensive team. In transition, tonight I thought we gave them a little too much. But Matt Murray played a solid game. We’ve won a game, we can be better, and we’ll quickly refocus on Princeton. I’m excited for that challenge.”
When asked about Murray’s improvement in net, Carvel explained his team’s defensive scheme and goaltender’s role.
“I think he’s got a good team in front of him,” Carvel said. “Most of their chances, except for their breakaway, were kept to the outside. He’s done a really good job of taking care of the crease. He’s not giving the rebounds to create the havoc. He’s done a real good job managing the pucks that come at him. And I think he’s got a lot of confidence right now.
“We play a system that allows the goaltender to anticipate the game. We allow shots from certain places, and he knows that. He knows what he’s responsible for and what the defensemen are responsible for, I think that makes it easier. When I coached in the NHL, Marty Brodeur was an excellent goalie because he was very skilled, but he knew what where shots were gonna come from and he knew what he was responsible for. If the game’s helter-skelter, its tough. But if you know what you’re responsible for you take care of it.”
UMass gets a short Thanksgiving break and hits the Mullins Center ice again on Saturday for a previously alluded to the game against the Princeton Tigers. Puck drop is at 7 pm in Amherst.