Massachusetts Daily Collegian

John Leonard returns from injury, serves key role for UMass in 3-2 overtime win

Missed last two games with upper-body injury

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(Jon Asgeirsson/Daily Collegian)

(Jon Asgeirsson/Daily Collegian)

(Jon Asgeirsson/Daily Collegian)

By Liam Flaherty, Collegian Staff

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The return of John Leonard was noticeable, to say the least, on Thursday night at Mullins Center, as the freshman forward willed the Massachusetts hockey team to a 3-2 overtime Hockey East Association playoff victory over Vermont.

After being out for two straight games with an upper-body injury sustained against Boston College two weeks ago, Leonard was cleared to play for Game One and scored a key goal that cut the UMass deficit in half to start the third.

“That goal in the third got us going,” Minutemen (16-17-2, 9-13-2 Hockey East) coach Greg Carvel said of the tally that made the score 2-1.

Leonard’s impact was truly felt in overtime however, as the freshman made a standout individual effort breaking out of the UMass zone which resulted in Philip Lagunov’s game-winning goal with just 3.3 seconds remaining.

After going down 2-0 heading into the third period, the Minutemen were bailed out by a hit from Jarrid Privitera on defenseman Cale Makar that resulted in a five-minute major penalty and Privitera getting tossed from the ice.

With no luck on the two-man advantage in the remaining seconds of the second period, UMass knew that it had to make the most of its opportunity coming out of the break.

“We talked about it in the locker room, down two goals,” Leonard said. “We needed to come away with at least one on that power play.”

Leonard wasted no time coming out of the second intermission, scoring his 11th goal of the season and first of the playoffs just 59 seconds into the final frame.

“I just tried to take it to the back post and I was lucky enough to go five-hole,” Leonard said.

After Makar made an incredible coast-to-coast play, weaving in and out of the path of Catamount (9-19-7, 6-12-6 HEA) defenders, the freshman tied the game at two with 11:25 left to play in the game.

Neither team could net one in the remainder of the third, as well as what looked to be the entire overtime period, before Leonard found himself breaking out of the zone with time ticking down.

With an additional 20-minute extra frame looming, Leonard dug deep through the fatigue and managed to get ahead of a Vermont defender, before setting Lagunov up with a quick pass to score the overtime-winner.

“Honestly, I don’t really remember how I got out of [the zone],” Leonard said. “The puck just kind of squirted out, it was a foot race, and I was lucky enough to beat that guy and try to shield him off as best I could.”

“I saw [Lagunov] going to the net and I didn’t really have a good angle or a good lane to the net to shoot it, so I passed it backdoor and he used his head. Good play by him,” he added.

The call on the ice was not immediately determined a goal and was under review for a short time before the referees came out of the box and gave the signal that willed a victorious explosion out of the crowd of 2,573 at Mullins.

“The play that Leonard made in our defensive zone, he had two guys on top of him and he slipped it through his legs then beat a third guy up the ice, that’s unbelievable,” Carvel said. “That’s almost as nice as [Makar’s] goal.”

 

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

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