Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass hockey turned away with seconds left in 4-2 loss to Merrimack

By Ross Gienieczko

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Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian

Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian

The Massachusetts hockey team trailed 2-0 in the second period and rallied to tie the game in the third, but a costly turnover gave the Warriors a 3-2 lead and a sprawling save by Merrimack goaltender Collin Delia in the final minute of the game preserved the lead as the Minutemen fell 4-2 against the Warriors Friday night at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass (6-3-1, 2-2-1 Hockey East) fell behind early after a Jared Kolquist shot found its way through traffic (and was possibly deflected) to beat Minutemen goaltender Nic Renyard at four minutes, six seconds of the first period.

From that point until the end of the period, Merrimack (6-1-2, 2-1-2 HEA) applied heavy pressure offensively and generated some high-quality scoring chances around the UMass net. But Renyard made several great stops to keep the game in reach early, something UMass goalies have rarely been able to do in the last few seasons.

Early in the second period, however, a defensive zone turnover resulted in a John Gustafsson shot that squeaked by Renyard, and at 4:03 into the period, the Warriors led 2-0.

But as they’ve done several times already this season, the Minutemen battled back. Freshman Callum Fryer put UMass on the board with the first goal of his collegiate career at 17:32 in the second on a blast from the right point. Less than five minutes into the third, senior Shane Walsh then scored his eighth goal of the year to even the game on a power play goal assisted by Dennis Kravchenko and Steven Iacobellis.

But midway through the third period, a Minutemen defense that had played well coughed up a huge turnover that resulted in the game-winning tally. An errant breakout pass found Warriors forward Hampus Gustafsson just outside the UMass blue line, and he made a nice pass to a streaking Alfred Larsson up the left wing. Larsson was in all alone and beat Renyard with a quick shot to the top right corner to give Merrimack a 3-2 lead.

“We put (Renyard) in a bad spot on the third one,” UMass coach John Micheletto said after Friday’s game. “That’s a tough turnover at that point in the game.”

The Minutemen would have several chances to even the game in the final 10:23 of regulation, but clearly the best was on a shot by Ray Pigozzi with 20 seconds left and the UMass net empty. Pigozzi was positioned to the right of the Warriors net and fired the puck towards goal after a rebound, but Merrimack goaltender Collin Delia made a sprawling kick save to keep his team ahead.

“We kid around with our goaltenders: You only have to make one save a game, the game winner,” Warriors coach Mark Dennehy said following the game. “That one happened to be it.”

Seconds later, Hampus Gustafsson fired home an empty netter and the Warriors left Mullins Center with a 4-2 victory.

“I thought we had a pretty good effort by our goaltender. I thought we did a pretty good job on the penalty kill,” Dennehy said. “Points are hard to come by in this league and we took two in their barn, so that’s a huge plus for us.”

For UMass, the focus was on missed opportunities and a couple of goals that Delia wiped off the board with his play in net.

“We had some goals on our sticks that their kid made some fantastic saves on,” Micheletto said. “If we bury one of those we probably feel better about the end result… I’ll probably be reminded of four or five.”

“(The game) did kind of slip away from us, for sure,” Iacobellis said. “(Delia) was quick. He was really good down low, he was an agile goaltender.”

Delia finished with 29 saves and improved to 6-1-2 on the season, as he’s started every game for the Warriors. Renyard had a solid night in goal for UMass and made 23 stops, but fell to 4-2-1.

The Minutemen will have Saturday off before they travel to Vermont for a Sunday matinee against the Catamounts. Puck drop is set for 2 p.m. from Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington.

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

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