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UMass hockey beats AIC 3-1 to win third straight

(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts hockey team was anchored by two important goals in the first period to secure a 3-1 home-opening win over American International College Saturday night at the Mullins Center.

The contest counted as the Minutemen’s first three-game winning streak since the start of the 2015-16 season.

With the score 2-0 UMass heading into the third period, the Yellow Jackets (0-4-1, 0-2-1 Atlantic Hockey League) cut the Minutemen’s lead in half on a mid-period goal from Brennan Kapcheck, who sent the puck five-hole between UMass goalie Matt Murray’s pads at 9:41.

Minuteman freshman John Leonard put the game out of reach on a two-on-one rush with George Mika at 17:21 of the third period, on a snipe-shot from the right faceoff circle, that blew by AIC netminder Alex Murray’s blocker, to make it 3-1.

Leonard’s second goal of the evening was unassisted and counted for the Amherst native’s third point of the game.

“I thought both teams looked a little ragged out there,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “But it’s a good sign for this young team that if we don’t have our ‘A’ game, then our ‘B’ game was good enough to get us a win.”

The Minutemen (3-1-0) opened the scoring 9:18 into the first frame.

UMass freshman Oliver Chau scored his second goal in as many games on a wrist shot to the top right corner over Murray’s shoulder, after taking a nice feed from Leonard, for the 1-0 lead.

Roles were reversed in the Minutemen’s second tally when Chau dished the puck off to Leonard, who was headed to the center of the zone, for a quick turn-around shot that beat Murray top right again.

“I think we’re starting to talk a lot more which helps,” Chau said. “We’re starting to get a feel for where we’re going to be. Winning is great and it’s a lot of fun so let’s just keep that trend.”

UMass came off a thrilling 5-4 win over Union College just the night before which, in Carvel’s opinion, was the better performance of the back-to-back nights.

“That’s the first time this young team had to travel after a Friday night game so I was concerned about our energy level,” Carvel said. “We just didn’t have our legs, we didn’t have our jump, we weren’t as physical as we were against Union.”

Freshman defenseman Cale Makar registered an assist on the night, on Leonard’s first goal of the game, counting for his third assist this season.

“We go to Union last night and break out a tough win from there against a good club and then come back here and you could tell there was a little bit of fatigue in the lineup during the game,” Makar said.

Matt Murray made 23 saves in the win for the Minutemen, nine of which occurred in the second period, to keep the Yellow Jackets playing catchup hockey for the entire contest.

Makar assured his confidence in the rotation of goalies behind him, comparing Murray to Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens.

“[Murray] is not going to scramble too much and you can trust him to make those saves when you’re not back there,” Makar said. “In terms of tonight, Murray was the backbone of our team and he was able to stay calm.”

Carvel is pleased with the three-game winning streak, even pointing out that UMass has won almost as many as games as they did last season.

“I think it’s been a real good progression for us, the games we’ve played and tonight,” Carvel said. “The next one is perfect too, we’re going to have a good Ohio State game coming here and we’ve got to make sure our guys are reenergized.”

The Minutemen hope to extend their winning streak beginning with its series against Ohio State next Friday at the Mullins Center.

Mollie Walker can be reached at molliewalker@umass.edu or followed on Twitter @MWalker2019.

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