Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass hockey blanks UMass Lowell 3-0 in Amherst

Matt Murray earns third shutout

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(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

(Caroline O'Connor/Daily Collegian)

By Liam Flaherty, Collegian Staff

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For the first time in 48 years, the Massachusetts hockey team shutout UMass Lowell on Saturday night, in a 3-0 Hockey East Association victory at the Mullins Center.

Niko Hildenbrand scored the deciding goal in the second night of a two-game weekend for the Minutemen (13-16-2, 7-12-2 HEA), which granted them points in their third consecutive affair, helped by Matt Murray’s third shutout of the year.

“Before the weekend I told the group, ‘I think we’re ready to take a step forward’,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “We found a way to get a point last night (3-3 tie vs. BU) and then to beat UML, it’s a big step forward. Real solid 60-minutes for our group. We checked well, played heavy and competed well.”

For the Minutemen, Saturday’s victory showed positive signs of things to come for the young UMass group that is out to secure any points that it can down this final stretch of games before the start of tournament play in early March.

“The kids have done a great job,” Carvel said. “The young team is maturing and I think it’s evolving as I hoped it would. Our short-term goal right now is to try and find home ice for the first round. We’ve still got three very tough games in front of us but this weekend will give us good confidence going forward.”

Murray’s performance (30 saves) in net kept the River Hawks (16-14-0, 10-10-0 HEA) scoreless throughout the entirety of the game and allowed the Minutemen the opportunity to confidently turn away all three UML power plays that came their way.

“[Murray] looks like he did back in November when he had the net,” Carvel said. “He was just very comfortable and had control of the puck which helped us control the game.”

When asked about his confidence at this point in the season, Murray summed it up as “really high,” while deflecting the spotlight to the play of his teammates.

“Every shutout is a team victory,” he said. “The guys in front of me did a phenomenal job keeping most of the shots to the outside and cleaning up in front of the net. Without them I definitely wouldn’t have been able to get that one.”

Hildenbrand got the scoring started at 6:49 of the first period, after Jake McLaughlin sent in a slapshot on Chris Hernberg (22 saves) that bounced off the goaltender’s chest, over his shoulder and onto the goal-line. Hildenbrand saw the puck sitting in the vulnerable spot and cleaned it up to give the Minutemen the first goal of the game, something they have achieved in three straight.

“To be honest with you, that was more of a product of the guys on the ice,” Hildenbrand said explaining his first period tally. “I just happened to be in front.”

Play remained scoreless throughout the rest of the game and was pretty toned down until the waning minutes of the third period.

With 3:30 left to go, UML coach Norm Bazin pulled Hernberg from the net and decided to play for a tie by adding the extra skater on the attack.

Moments after Josh Couturier won a faceoff in front of Murray though, Philip Lagunov sent a wrister more than half the length of the ice that found its way into the empty River Hawks net.

Following Lagunov, Hildenbrand added his second of the game with only 42 seconds remaining. The goal came as his eighth of the season and gave the Minutemen plenty of insurance, ahead 3-0.

Following the game, Carvel had some high praise for Hildenbrand, a forward in his second year with the program.

“I’m very happy,” Carvel said. “Niko’s a heart and soul player on our team and in our program he’s a leader. It’s the way he lives his life on and off the ice, the way we want our kids to be. If they’re all like him we’ll have the perfect program.”

 

Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @_LiamFlaherty.

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