Strong first period propels UMass hockey to first Hockey East victory of the season

By Nick Souza

(Christina Yacono/Daily Collegian)

NORTH ANDOVER –– The Massachusetts hockey team may have played its strongest first period of the season Friday night against Merrimack College as it grabbed a 3-1 victory on the road for the first time this season.

The Minutemen (3-4-1, 1-2-1 Hockey East Association) got off to their best start of the season with all three of their goals coming in the first 12 minutes.

UMass coach Greg Carvel has recognized the first period has been a struggle for the Minutemen this season.

“That’s been maybe our biggest problem so far this season is not coming out ready to play,” Carvel said. “It’s been a focus all week, and it was a focus all day today.”

A goal from freshman Jonny Lazarus –  his third of the season and the team’s third of the game – following a neutral zone turnover by the Warriors (4-5-2, 0-2-2 HE) capped off a strong opening period.

Lazarus beat Merrimack goaltender Drew Vogler unassisted to give UMass the 3-0 lead with 8:09 to go in the period.

“Jonny Lazarus is proving he can score goals,” Carvel said. “There are a lot of other parts of his game that needs to come a long way, but he can score goals and that’s a great sign.”

As fast as the Minutemen looked offensively in the first period it would be shut out the remainder of the game with only nine shots in the final two periods, compared to 11 in the first.

Despite a strong first shift from UMass which saw back-to-back scoring chances that nearly put the game out of reach, it struggled to create many more scoring opportunities throughout the period.

Sophomore forward Derek Petti scored the lone goal for the Warriors less than 90 seconds into the second period to bring the score to 3-1.

However, Carvel had little concern over his team’s ability to maintain control of the game.

“This is the first time this year that I felt that we mentally we were pretty steady for 60 minutes,” Carvel said.  “We’ve had a lot of swings in our game. Even after they scored there, I thought there wasn’t any lag in our game. I thought we just got back to what we were doing.”

The third period saw Minutemen goalie Nic Renyard (40 saves) and his teammates withstand 17 shots from Merrimack – highest total in a period by either team – while UMass only generated one shot on goal for the final 20 minutes.

Renyard at one point in the third got caught behind the net and while the Warriors maintained pressure in the offensive zone and turned the puck over. However the Warriors were unable to capitalize and the clock wound down to zero as UMass took home its first conference win of the season.

“All you can really do is say to yourself ‘next shot’ and focus on staying in the moment and make sure you don’t get caught up in what just happened and what’s about to happen,” Renyard said.

UMass also managed to win the much important special teams battle as it successfully killed all five penalties it faced against Merrimack.

Freshman defenseman Shane Bear buried a power-play goal from high in the slot off a feed from forward Austin Plevy with 10:22 to go in the first giving the Minutemen what would prove to be the game winning goal and a 2-0 lead.

“As a defenseman you don’t get many chances like that right in the slot, so I made sure I bared down and put everything I had into the shot and it ended up in the back of the net,” Bear said.

Nicholas Souza can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @nicksouza27.