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UMass freshman goalie Matt Murray confident after solid debut in Arizona

(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

Massachusetts hockey goalie Matt Murray knows a thing or two about high-pressure situations.

Since they’re the last line of defense between whether an opposing team scores or not, most goalies do. For Murray, his “welcome to college hockey moment” came in his first career start in net Saturday, against Arizona State.

Up 3-2 with 3:21 left in the game, UMass found themselves on the penalty-kill after Minutemen sophomore defenseman Jake McLaughlin took a hooking penalty. ASU then pulled their goalie to make it a 6-on-4 situation, putting Murray and UMass in a critical spot.

Luckily for the Minutemen, Murray wasn’t fazed by the situation at all, or at least he didn’t appear to be.

The St. Albert, Alberta native made three saves in a span of 43 seconds to prevent the Sun Devils from tying it, thus allowing redshirt senior Niko Rufo the opportunity to ice the game with his empty-netter at 19:11, giving UMass its first win of its young season.

“It was pretty intense but all the guys in front of me did such a great job,” Murray said. “There were guys putting their lives on the line to block point shots, and if some of those got to the net who knows what could’ve happened. Without them, who knows what the game could’ve been like.”

The Minutemen did indeed block a couple shots in the final three-minute stretch, but it was Murray’s calm, cool and collected vibe that propelled UMass to victory as he stopped 22 of 24 ASU shots over the 60-minute frame.

Whether in tight moments or not, the 6-foot-1, 195-pounder admitted staying composed in net is what keeps him on his game.

“I find that if you’re too amped up in the cage you get tight. I just try to stay relaxed, stay loose and watch the puck,” Murray said. “Saves come easier for me that way.”

As one of two freshmen goalies on the roster –Brad Arvanitis being the other—Murray’s been thrown right into the mix for the starting goaltending duties, along with sophomore Ryan Wischow.

Much like last season, there doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut, No. 1 option in goal for the Minutemen at this point, however Murray said that uncertainty could turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

“I feel like that little uncertainty just pushes you to be the best you can be every day, and keep getting better and better,” Murray, who compiled a 2.36 goals-against average and .910 save percentage over 52 regular season games for the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League (USHL) in 2016-17, said. “I find that if you’re the go-to guy sometimes you can catch yourself being complacent or taking a shortcut, but if you’re in constant competition with somebody you got to be at you’re best or you’re not going to play.”

Notching the win in your first-ever start isn’t a bad way to kick-off your college career, which is something Wischow can attest to.

In his first start in between the pipes last year, Wischow posted a 31-save shutout over Colorado College in UMass’ 3-0 win on opening night, Oct. 7.

As the upperclassmen among goalies, Murray has looked to his elder statesmen for guidance.

“Looking at what he does and how he handles things, especially managing school and hockey at this level, and just getting tips and pointers from him [has helped],” Murray said. “All the do’s and don’ts around schooling and with athletics and what you should prioritize at certain levels.”

“It’s really great, healthy competition. Him and I are pretty good buddies and we compete with each other and make each other better each day,” Murray continued. “I find that’s the best thing that you can have on a team is two goalies that can both play and win games for the team, [and when] both goalies in practice are pushing one another to get better and better.”

The No. 29 ranked goalie on the National Hockey League’s Central Scouting List for North American goalies also expressed his delight with his transition from junior hockey to Division I college hockey, through this early part of the season.

“It’s been pretty smooth,” Murray said. “It’s been basically what I’ve expected. The jump from junior [hockey] was a pretty big jump, but I feel like I’m ready for this level and it was the right step for me to make.”

Neither of the trio of Wischow, former Minuteman Nic Renyard, and recent graduate Alex Wakaluk could take the reigns as the true starter a season ago, as all three registered a save percentage less than .900.

Murray has a chance to be the sound, puck-stopper UMass has craved for years, yet the freshman netminder just wants to prove himself and not worry about all the other distractions that may come his way.

“I just want to play. I want to play as many games as possible and win as many games as possible for the team,” Murray said.

Ryan Ames can be reached at rames@umass.edu or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.

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