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Hockey Notebook: John Leonard on an early season tear for UMass hockey

(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

Maybe it’s the familiarity with the Massachusetts hockey program or maybe it’s the result of seizing an opportunity, but whatever it is, freshman John Leonard is thriving off it.

Leonard, a Springfield-born, Amherst-raised product, has jolted to the top of the list amongst UMass (5-6-0, 2-3-0 Hockey East Association) point producers with nine points in seven games played for the Minutemen.

The first-line winger returned to the UMass starting lineup last week against Providence and registered an assist in the Minutemen’s 5-2 shocker Nov. 9, and then scored his fourth goal of the year in UMass’ 7-2 loss to the Friars two nights later. Leonard was recovering from an upper-body injury he sustained Oct. 20 against Ohio State—the only game No. 9 has not tallied a point so far, this season.

Behind only Oliver Chau on the Minutemen stat sheet (10 points) Leonard has picked up right where he left off production-wise before missing four games.

“I like to just try and keep things simple and hopefully the rest will fall into place,” Leonard said. “First game against Providence I kind of just threw it in front and [Mitchell] Chaffee was just able to bang it home. Then in Providence Phil [Lagunov] did all the work and I was just in the slot able to one-time it in. I’m playing with great guys right now and obviously that helps a lot to be successful.”

Currently tied for 15th place in Hockey East in point scoring, Leonard’s blossoming relationship with a cast of UMass characters has largely factored into the hometown boy’s early season success.

“Obviously it’s been good. I play with [Oliver] Chau and Chaffee more on the power play situations but playing with Phil and [Niko] Rufo has been really good so far,” Leonard, whose father John was an assistant coach for the Minutemen basketball team from 2001-05, said. “We’re building a lot of chemistry together and obviously the more you play together you have more chemistry and are able to read and react off each other and know where each other are [on the ice]. Just doing that every day in practice really helps us moving forward.”

At the onset of the year it wasn’t clear what kind of role Leonard would assume for a very inexperienced UMass club. Starting on the fourth line, the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder swiftly worked his way up to the top trio and proved he belonged, notching seven points in his first four collegiate tilts.

Now a mainstay as one of the Minutemen starting three forwards, Leonard, the former Cathedral High standout, feels his breakout start bodes well for his psyche.

“I think the more you play in Hockey East the more confident you’re going to get,” said Leonard. “Getting puck-touches in practice and in the games I think is just the biggest thing for me, is just [to] find that confidence. Like I said, the more games you’ll play the more confident you’ll get.”

Tale of the tape: Special Teams

UMass has five wins through 11 games this year but it’s tough not to think that the Minutemen would’ve sneaked out one or two more had their special teams tightened up.

The penalty kill started well but have hit a pothole recently with eight of the oppositions 12 prior goals coming while UMass was down a man.

In last Saturday’s loss to Providence, the Friars scored five of their seven total goals on the man-advantage in what was the Minutemen’s worst contest from a penalty killing perspective.

“Killing seven, eight penalties a game really just throws your bench off, times get skewed,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “It’s a focus point here for the next two weeks and again, I think it’s partially a young team learning to play, trying to play physical, working really hard at it but not winning as many battles so it leads to stick infractions. It’s also a case where we’re a team that hasn’t had much respect in this league and I don’t think our referees we haven’t earned it yet from the referees. We’re getting there.”

The Minutemen rank sixth in Hockey East on the penalty kill with a 79 percent kill rate.

On the opposite side, the UMass power play has had a rough go through this initial stretch, going 7-for-49 (14.3 percent) up a man.

The Minutemen haven’t recorded a power play goal since Oct. 28 when defenseman Mario Ferraro potted a pair in UMass’ 5-3 loss to Merrimack.

“I think we need to shoot a little bit more,” said Carvel. “We’re relying on a five-man freshmen power play so we’re going to be patient with them, coach them, not put pressure on them, but we do need them to shoot the puck more and see what happens when we put more shots to the net.”

Only Boston College has a worse power play in Hockey East with a 12.8 percentage (6-for-47).

Signees

Kristian Acosta (Sioux Falls Stampede, United States Hockey League), Marko Reifenberger (Central Illinois Flying Aces, USHL) and Marco DelGaizo (Muskegon Lumberjacks, USHL) all signed their National Letters of Intent last week marking their eventual arrival to Amherst.

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

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