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Improved penalty kill contributes to recent success

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

The Massachusetts hockey team took advantage of UMass Lowell on Saturday afternoon, using newfound confidence, an improved penalty kill and a quick lead to propel the team to its third-straight victory.

Earlier in the season, UMass was plagued by slow starts and early deficits. The Minutemen have reversed that trend during their current winning streak, jumping out to 2-0 leads against conference rivals Vermont and UML and non-conference foe Quinnipiac.

“I think [the early leads] are a byproduct of just playing better in a lot of different areas,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “[Our] hustle and competitiveness and a better level of confidence in terms of moving the puck and getting the puck to the net has allowed us to get a few more goals.”

The Minutemen dominated the first period, outshooting the River Hawks, 11-4, while jumping out to another 2-0 lead. Junior forward T.J. Syner tallied the first goal for UMass seven minutes into the period, and Danny Hobbs scored the second four minutes later.

Despite the early lead, UMass reverted to shoddy play in the second, taking penalties and giving UMass Lowell momentum, as the River Hawks scored two unanswered goals to tie the game.

Although the second period belonged to Lowell, the Minutemen penalty kill did a nice job of not letting it get too out of hand, killing off two of three penalties.

“The penalty kill really hurt us early in the year,” Cahoon said. “We were so inexperienced and unsure of ourselves. We’d take one or two penalties in a period, but they were getting one or two goals off of those penalties.”

 That is not the case anymore, as the UMass penalty killers are making smarter decisions with the puck and finding ways to block more shots for their captain, Paul Dainton, who is finding his groove in net.

The Minutemen used their first period success as a blueprint for the third period, as they outskated and outshot the River Hawks, 15-12. UMass’ Doug Kublin scored the game-winner 10 seconds into the stanza before Hobbs and rookie Eric Filiou added on two more insurance goals later.

UMass’ third period play met Cahoon’s expectations for his team.

 “We came out in the first period and moved our feet, played hard and continued basically what’s going on with this team, at least for the last week or so.”

Earlier this year, UMass couldn’t seem to finish out close games, as it would either drop one-goal decisions or end in draws. Now UMass has some success which it can fall back on when dealing with adversity. That is exactly what the Minutemen did to take over the game in the third period.

“We went in the dressing room and we knew it was a 2-2 game,” Filiou, who scored his first collegiate goal, said. “We had 20 minutes to get back into it, so we motivated ourselves, [got] the momentum going, we went out there [in the third], scored the next goal and never looked back.”

The last week or so has shown the Minutemen a recipe for success: confident play, quick starts and penalty killing.

As usual, Cahoon doesn’t want to overindulge in his team’s recent successes, but he recognizes in his squad a new level of play.

“We’[ve got] a long way to go, but I think there’s been a dramatic improvement in those areas,” Cahoon said.

Steve Levine can be reached at slevine@student.umass.edu.

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