Six games into the season, John Leonard focused on increasing consistency

The sophomore was named Player of the Week by Hockey East on Monday

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(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

By Liam Flaherty, Collegian Staff

After the Massachusetts hockey team was bounced early in the second round of the Hockey East Association Player playoffs last March, forward John Leonard was dubbed Player of the Month.

Seven months later, in the aftermath of No. 11 UMass’ (5-1-0, 2-0-0 HEA) most successful start to a season in program history, Leonard picked up where he left off and quickly received another award.

On the heels of six points against Merrimack, the sophomore was named Hockey East Player of the Week, which marks the third consecutive Minuteman to receive the award in as many weeks.

“I think it’s always an honor to get recognition like that, but at the end of the day, it’s just because the team was successful this weekend,” Leonard said. “So, obviously the team comes first. We were lucky enough to get both wins this weekend and start Hockey East play on the right foot.”

Prior to receiving his second-career nod from the association, Leonard was working behind the scenes, listening to the UMass coaching staff and attempting to evolve certain facets of his game.

After starting the year sharing a line with Philip Lagunov and Jacob Pritchard, Minutemen head coach Greg Carvel decided to make a change prior to the start of Hockey East action on Friday.

Instead of his usual linemates, Leonard was paired up with Brett Boeing and Niko Hildenbrand. With the new group, Leonard netted a goal and recorded five assists in the home-and-home sweep.

However, even after securing a trio of points in UMass’ first contest at Mullins since defeating No. 7 Ohio State, Carvel and his staff weren’t completely content with the forward’s production.

“We’re happy he gets that recognition and I’m happy that he gets points, because he’s the kind of player that helps a lot when the points come as a result of his effort, [but] we weren’t very happy with his game on Friday,” Carvel said. “Obviously when we get on the power play, he’s a very good player, but we’re focused more on his habits and details without the puck. We thought his compete level wasn’t great, so we challenged him to be better Saturday and he played very well.”

“We’re just looking for consistency in his effort and his play without the puck,” Carvel added. “In Saturday’s overtime, we scored that goal because of his skill set. He was able to come in, make a lateral move, get the puck to the net and [create] a rebound in the right spot to score. He has potential, but he can’t [do it] without an attention to detail without the puck. We work hard to make sure he has that consistently there and on the nights that it’s not, he hears about it from us.”

Leonard also acknowledged that a change in mentality played a role in upping his performance.

“I think I was just trying to shoot some more pucks than I was in the first couple of weekends,” the sophomore skater said. “In the RPI and OSU series, I wasn’t moving my feet as much as I should’ve been or shooting enough pucks on net. Most of the points this weekend just came from shooting the puck on the net and having guys going to the right places to tap them in back-door.”

In the aftermath of a unique weekend of development, Leonard reiterated that a stern focus on improvement is a big key, not just for himself, but for the 24 guys that surround him as well.

“I think there was high expectations at the beginning of the year for the team and we knew what we had to do going into the first couple of weekends,” he said. “We knew we wanted to get off on the right foot to start and we’ve done just that. There’s always going to be room for improvement and I don’t think anyone in that locker room or on this staff is satisfied yet.”

The Minutemen take on New Hampshire at the Whittemore Center on Saturday with a 7 p.m. start time.

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