UMass hockey skates to a 1-1 tie with No. 13 Merrimack Saturday night

By Ross Gienieczko

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian
Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian

In a tight, defensive game that saw little room for offensive opportunities, the Massachusetts hockey team tied No. 13 Merrimack 1-1 Saturday night at Lawler Arena in North Andover, Massachusetts.

It was the second tie of the weekend for the Minutemen (6-3-4, 2-2-4 Hockey East), who also tied New Hampshire Friday night by a score of 2-2. Freshman Kurt Keats had UMass’ lone goal of the game at one minute, 19 seconds of the second period and Nic Renyard made 30 saves in net to improve to 4-2-4.

“We were in a fight every step of the way,” Minutemen coach John Micheletto said after the game. “Coming in against a well-rested, ranked team, I was very happy.”

It was Keats’ second goal of the weekend after he also scored Friday night against the Wildcats. The third line of Keats, Patrick Lee and Joseph Widmar gave UMass’ forward group a boost this weekend and Micheletto specifically mentioned their performance this weekend.

“They were as effective a line as we had this weekend,” Micheletto said. “Their forechecking and takeaways were an important part in the points we took this weekend.”

Micheletto went on to praise the team’s effort and execution. Backstopped by Renyard and his 30 saves, UMass allowed just a lone goal– one that Micheletto described as a bit of a fluke. It came off the stick of Warriors sophomore defenseman Aaron Titcomb, and came at 12:16 in the second period.

Titcomb’s equalizer came less than 60 seconds after the Minutemen appeared to take a 2-0 courtesy of defenseman William Lagesson, but the goal was waived off after a video review determined there was contact with the goaltender.

For a team that prefers to play an aggressive up-tempo style on a big sheet of ice, UMass held its own in a tight defensive battle on Merrimack’s smaller rink. The Minutemen were 3-for-3 on the penalty kill and the one goal allowed represented their best defensive effort of the season. They had previously been allowing close to four goals per game.

Micheletto talked about the team’s progress on that side of the ice and its willingness to put the work in against a strong defensive team like the Warriors (6-1-4, 2-1-4 HEA).

“We’ve been able to build a team that can play a lot of different ways,” Micheletto said. “I think we continue to push forward and make strides as a team, and team defense is one of those areas.”

The Minutemen have allowed 2.5 goals against per game over their last six outings compared to 4.28 per game over their first seven. A big factor in that has been Renyard, who’s assumed the role of starter after splitting playing time with sophomore Henry Dill early in the season.

The freshman has accumulated a .916 save percentage in 11 appearances this season and provided stability in an area UMass has struggled with consistency in the last few seasons.

“He was as good as he’s been with us,” Micheletto said. “He continues to make the saves he should make.”

Renyard continued his trend of making timely saves for the Minutemen, making 14 in the third period and overtime.

The Minutemen return to action this weekend with a home-and-home series against one of the best teams in the country in No. 2 Quinnipiac. Friday night’s game in Amherst is set to begin at 7 p.m.

Ross Gienieczko can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @RossGien.