UMass hockey blows out Merrimack to open Hockey East play

Minutemen win 5-1 Friday


Caroline O'Connor

By Amin Touri, Sports Editor

With a ton of confidence under its belt after a landmark trip to Ohio State last weekend, the Massachusetts hockey team kept things rolling with a blowout win over Merrimack to open Hockey East play on Friday.

Multi-point nights from John Leonard, Mitchell Chaffee and Brett Boeing, along with excellent special teams play and stellar performance from goaltender Matt Murray, helped No. 16 UMass (4-1-0, 1-0-0 HEA) to a commanding victory at the Mullins Center.

“Obviously very happy with the outcome and the score but I thought we were sloppy tonight,” said coach Greg Carvel. “I thought we were fortunate that Merrimack didn’t expose us in a lot of the poor puck decisions and turnovers in the neutral zone.”

Graduate transfer Jacob Pritchard opened the scoring for the Minutemen, throwing a shot on goal that trickled through Warrior goaltender Craig Pantano’s pads on the power play to give UMass the lead six minutes in. Senior Brett Boeing doubled the advantage with just 90 seconds left in the period, coming down the left side and taking a feed from Niko Hildenbrand and ripping it shortside past Pantano for his second of the year.

Arguably the game’s biggest moment came in the first period, when the Warriors earned a huge chance to swing the momentum with a 5-on-3 opportunity midway through the opening frame and UMass up 1-0. But as they’d continue to do all night, the Minutemen were excellent on the penalty kill, keeping Merrimack at bay and escaping with the lead intact.

“I thought we came out and played real well until we took those two penalties,” Carvel said. “I think they got like eight or 10 shots on net through those two power plays and that gave them life. I thought we did a real good job. The 5-on-3, I can’t remember them with really more than maybe one or two chances so that whole group, then we had to kill the five-minute major in the middle of the third and we score a shorthanded goal. Penalty-kill was outstanding tonight.”

A bad line change was the culprit for Merrimack on the third goal, as Ty Farmer threw the puck up the right side for a wide open Jack Suter, who left it for Leonard at the right point. Leonard deked past one defender and fired a snap shot past Pantano to make it 3-0 at 16:22 of the second.

On a strong power play night for the Minutemen, Marc Del Gaizo picked up his second goal of the year on a strange finish, as he banked it off the post and then Pantano’s skate from the goal line to extend the lead to 4-0 on the man-advantage.

UMass finished 2-5 on the power play on Friday, while killing off all six penalties on the other end. Combined with a sparkling performance for Murray, who made 26 saves on the night, the Minutemen overcame some sloppy turnovers and some struggles on the breakout to notch a big win.

“Fortunately our special teams were strong again and our goaltending was excellent and as we’ve talked about all year, those were the three areas where we wanted to be better,” Carvel said. “So, we’ll obviously take the two points but we got to quickly refocus because again, we’ll face an angry team tomorrow night on their home ice and it’ll be a much different game. Our puck decisions tonight, our management with the puck, was way below acceptable but we created a lot of offense and the power play and the [penalty-kill] were outstanding.”

Boeing capped off a great night with a short-handed goal, a backhander past Pantano to make it 5-1, and despite the mistakes and penalties and poor puck possession, the Minutemen head to North Andover Saturday night with a win already in hand, looking to sweep the series in the return game, this time on a much smaller sheet.

“Definitely the size of the rink, I don’t know if you guys know Lawler, it’s a lot smaller dimensions, lower ceiling, you definitely feel in a tighter box, so it’s a more physical game for sure,” Boeing said. “I don’t know if it’ll really carry over — they play a hard, fast game, and that’s we like to do too, so I think it’ll definitely be another physical game tomorrow.”

Puck drop between UMass and Merrimack is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday in North Andover.

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter