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UMass hockey finishes fourth at the Friendship Four in Belfast, Northern Ireland

Hockey vs. Vermont on November 12, 2016 at the Mullins Center. Ryan Wischow. (Caroline O'Connor.

Hockey vs. Vermont on November 12, 2016 at the Mullins Center. Ryan Wischow. (Caroline O’Connor/Daily Collegian)

While it will go down officially as a loss and tie, the Massachusetts hockey team finished the weekend in fourth place out of four in the Friendship Four hockey tournament in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

For UMass (3-7-2, 1-5-1 Hockey East) and its coach Greg Carvel, the consolation game on Saturday against Saint Lawrence carried a little more emotional fervor than your typical third place game.

Carvel played for SLU (8-4-4, 5-0-2 ECAC) during his career as a collegiate player, and coached his alma mater for five years before taking over as head coach of the Minutemen.

“I said in a separate interview that this was going to be the most hotly contested consolation game you’ll ever see,” Carvel told WHMP following the game.  “You could see that from the beginning of the game. You could see that from the Saint Lawrence players that they still had a little anger from the players that I left.”

While it is officially recorded as a 2-2 tie, because it determined the third place finisher of the tournament, the Saints and UMass decided the winner via shootout.

The shootout took six rounds to decide the winner when SLU senior Drew Smolcynski beat Minutemen goalie Ryan Wischow, and forward Ryan McDougall was unable to answer against Saints goaltender Kyle Hayton giving SLU the unofficial win.

The most unfortunate aspect of the technical loss for the Minutemen is they did not trail the Saints through 65 minutes of regulation and overtime play.

UMass opened the scoring with freshman forward Niko Hildenbrand deflecting a pass from Griff Jeszka past Hayton with 10:30 to go in the first period. The Minutemen then created their second 2-0 lead of the tournament on a power play goal from Austin Plevy (his fourth goal of the season) assisted by senior captain Steven Iacobellis less than two minutes into the second period.

“I thought it was a great play by (Iacobellis) to get the puck out to Plevy. It’s just unfortunate we couldn’t get more of that in overtime,” Carvel said to WHMP.

After SLU climbed back to tie and force overtime, UMass had an opportunity to win the game following a five minute major on Saints’ Nolan Gluchowski–who also suffered a game misconduct with less than two minutes to go in regulation for contact to the head on Iacobellis as he crossed mid-ice.

Unfortunately, the Minutemen came up empty as they finished the tournament with just one power play goal despite a combined 13 chances for the weekend.

UMass can’t finish what it started against Vermont

The Minutemen opened the tournament against their conference foe the Catamounts (8-3-2, 4-2-1 HEA). This was a game that also counted toward Hockey East conference play, and despite another strong start, UMass ultimately fell 4-2.

The Minutemen opened scoring early in the first period with a goal by Jeszka (his third of the season) as he used the defenseman in front of him as a screen against UVM goalie Stefanos Lekkas just over two minutes into the game.

Defenseman Shane Bear followed up with another goal (his third of the season) just over a minute later as he wristed a shot in from the slot putting UMass up 2-0 by the end of the first period.

However, the game quickly turned in favor of the Catamounts as the second period progressed. The two goal lead dissipated for the Minutemen in less than two minutes.

“I think our defense just wasn’t making the plays that it was making in the first period,” Carvel told WHMP after the game. “I thought our defense did a really nice job of making plays to break their forecheck, an adjustment we made in our game plan from playing them a couple of weeks ago. I thought our defensemen in the first period were very good, and in the second period not so much.”

An odd man rush by UVM helped lead to the Catamount’s first goal as forward Derek Lordemeier scored his third of the season. Unfortunately, a penalty on UMass defenseman Ivan Chukarov still had to be served. This led to the second goal on the power play for UVM by sophomore Craig Puffer, tying the game at two.

In the third period Puffer scored his second goal of the game on yet another power play giving the Catamounts the 3-2 lead.

UVM’s empty net goal with just three seconds left in regulation put the game on ice for the Catamounts.

The Catamounts would go on to win the tournament, and while the Minutemen finished fourth Carvel still came away feeling positive about the results for UMass.

“When it was time to practice and it was time to play the games our guys were focused,” Carvel said to WHMP following the tournament. “That’s a really good sign and that wasn’t the case earlier in the season. What we’ll take away is that we played two top 20 teams.”

Nicholas Souza can be reached at njsouza@umass.edu and followed on twitter @nicksouza27.

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