SCHENECTADY, NY – Massachusetts hockey coach Greg Carvel had never won a game inside the Messa Rink throughout his coaching career.
After UMass’ 5-4 win Friday night over Union, however, that no longer proves to be true.
Freshman forwards Oliver Chau and Mitchell Chaffee, along with redshirt senior Niko Rufo, led the Minutemen (2-1) with a pair of points each in UMass’ thrilling victory over the Dutchmen (0-4).
“I thought tonight was going to be a real good test for our group,” Carvel said. “I’ve coached enough times here to know how well Union plays at home. We were real concerned about the first five minutes and I give my guys a lot of credit.
“We gave Chaffee the player of the game, from the coaches,” added Carvel. “He’s such a strong kid and again, that’s an element we just didn’t have last year. We have a couple of guys like that, Gaudet’s a bigger, heavier guy, [and] Niko Hildenbrand, so we got some bigger, heavier guys in our lineup which combines nicely with skill. Oliver Chau’s a real good skill player [and] that goal was a real nice finish.”
With the score 4-2 favoring UMass, freshman forward George Mika took a five-minute boarding penalty with just over six minutes left in regulation to give Union a stellar chance to usurp the lead.
The Dutchmen could not convert though, as the Minutemen killed off the entire major penalty, proving to be an essential stop with the outcome hanging in the balance.
“It was huge, because they scored a powerplay goal on a different powerplay, if I’m right,” said Carvel. “It was a mistake by us on our forecheck which allowed them a pretty good scoring chance, so we made an adjustment on that. They have a very good, creative powerplay, and they did a good job. Rick [Bennett’s] always done a really good job with his powerplay so that was a tough situation, six minutes left we take a five-minute penalty.”
UMass sophomore goaltender Ryan Wischow made 22 saves in the victory, making a couple crucial stops with time ticking down in the game.
The Minutemen capitalized first off a gritty goal from Rufo.
After Union failed to execute on a breakout pass, chaos ensued around Dutchmen goalie Jake Kupsky when he couldn’t control John Leonard’s initial shot. Rufo dug away until the puck crossed the line at 6:01 of the first period, to give UMass an early 1-0 lead.
Rufo’s goal highlighted an overall strong opening frame for the Minutemen, as they dictated the pace of play for the majority of the period over Union.
UMass carried that momentum into the second period when Chau scored his first career goal 52 seconds in.
Chaffee found Chau on the Dutchmen left faceoff circle, who then took the open space and flicked a shot past Kupsky’s blocker to give the Minutemen a 2-0 advantage.
“It’s great to get that one off my back,” said Chau. “Obviously a great play by my linemates to get me the puck. I didn’t even look, I just threw the puck on net and luckily it went in.”
Union forward Ryan Walker tallied the Dutchmen’s first goal at 8:17 of the middle frame, stuffing it past Wischow short-side to cut UMass’ lead to 2-1.
Two minutes and 31 seconds later, the Minutemen gained a man-advantage off Dutchmen Parker Foo’s interference penalty and quickly regained their two-goal lead.
Chaffee deflected home freshman defenseman Cale Makar’s shot from the point at 10:33, making it 3-1 UMass.
“We’ve been working hard throughout the week to try and generate more on the powerplay,” said Chaffee. “That was our first goal [on the man-advantage], we’ve had a lot of powerplays, so we just need to start generating on the powerplay. It was nice to finally execute.”
In the third period, it was Union scoring the early goal when Anthony Rinaldi fired the puck past Wischow on a Dutchmen man-advantage to cut the lead to 3-2.
The Minutemen were called for too many men on the ice, and Union made them pay with the powerplay marker 2:48 into the final period.
UMass tallied its second goal while up a man a little under seven minutes later on freshman forward George Mika’s wrister from the right half-wall, pushing the score to 4-2 Minutemen with 10:48 left in regulation.
Sophomore Niko Hildenbrand added an empty-netter before two late Dutchmen goals, and UMass escaped with the 5-4 win.
“Luckily, we’ll use them as learning experiences,” Carvel said of Union’s late two goals. “I haven’t looked at them on tape yet to figure out exactly, but it’s winning battles around the net. That was a big part of the game plan, making sure goals like that weren’t scored, just being really heavy and hard around our net.
”I’m just really happy for my team. They’re good kids that play hard and sacrifice for each other and there’s no egos. That’s a real pro of a young team that you don’t have to deal with a lot of egos. They’re happy to be here and happy to chip-in.”
UMass is back in action Saturday night, hosting American International for the home opener at Mullins Center.
Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.
Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.