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Ortiz lifts UMass over Merrimack with two-goal performance

HockAIn an attempt to break its three-game losing streak and get back on track, the Massachusetts hockey team was successful in defeating Merrimack, 4-1, Saturday night at the Mullins Center.

“It was a pretty solid effort coming off a bit of a struggle in the last couple weeks,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said.

Not having played for a week, the No. 15 Minutemen (10-5-0, 6-4-0 Hockey East) came out with fresh legs in the first period and wasted no time in attacking the Warriors (7-8-0, 4-6-0 HEA). In the first frame, UMass peppered Merrimack goalkeeper Andrew Braithwaite for 18 shots.

Will Ortiz delivered the first score of the contest, 11 minutes, nine seconds into the period, rebounding a deflected Chase Langeraap shot. Daren Rowe, who was also credited with an assist on the play, earned his first collegiate point.

The power play, which has been a weapon for the Minutemen this season, had been recently slowed down by opponents after their hot start at the beginning of the year. Against the Warriors, UMass looked to establish physical play early and received three man-advantage opportunities in the game.

Wellman took advantage of a Merrimack penalty 3:15 into the second period, scoring his team-leading 13th goal of the season to give the Minutemen a 2-0 lead. The goal moves the sophomore into a tie with New Hampshire’s Bobby Butler atop the Hockey East leaders in scoring.

Merrimack responded with a minute left before the end of the period, closing the gap to one score with Stephane Da Costa’s ninth goal of the season.

UMass continued to keep the pressure on the Warriors in the third period, scoring two more goals to put the game out of hand.

Ortiz scored his second goal nine minutes into the final frame after intercepting a pass and beating Braithwaite to put the Minutemen ahead, 3-1. The goal marked the senior’s seventh of the season, placing him second on the team behind Wellman.

“He plays with a lot of energy and I think he’s shooting the puck a little better than he has in the past,” Cahoon said of Ortiz. “He has a real good shot release, there’s a lot of pace on his shot, and now he’s found the net.”

Two minutes later, T.J. Syner added another score with his third goal of the year while on the penalty kill. The score was the first short-handed goal of the season for UMass.

For the contest, goalkeeper Paul Dainton made 33 saves while allowing a long score in the win.

After having struggles in one of the three periods of each of the past few losses, the Minutemen played a consistent 60 minutes of hockey and weren’t overmatched in any one particular frame.

“We were looking for three solid periods, that was an important agenda item for us to get the effort for three consecutive periods and not have much of a let-up,” Cahoon said.

The victory for UMass moves it four points ahead of Merrimack in the Hockey East and six points behind conference-leader UNH.

Cahoon is content with where his team stands after a semester, but knows they have to keep playing well and advancing in the standings.

“It’s a platform to work from, nothing more, nothing less,” he said. “Everybody’s anxious to see where we go and we’ll just take it one day at a time and hopefully we can play well enough to surprise some people along the way.”

After taking two weeks off for the holidays, the Minutemen will be back in action on Dec. 29 when they face Union in the UConn Tournament.

Jay Asser can be reached at jasser@student.umass.edu.

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