Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Walker: UMass hockey collecting wins despite doing it the hard way

Minutemen have won five contests despite giving up substantial early leads

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Walker: UMass hockey collecting wins despite doing it the hard way

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

By Mollie Walker, Assistant Sports Editor

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The two-goal lead has haunted the Massachusetts hockey team this season. Sort of.

For the fifth time this season, and the fourth time in the last five games, the Minutemen (11-1-0, 6-0-0 Hockey East Association) gave up a two-goal first period lead.

UMass’ inability to preserve a hefty lead against top opponents has created a lot more work for the team.

But every time, the Minutemen manage to pull out the ‘W.’

Saturday night was just another example with a 3-2 overtime win against No. 18 Princeton (3-4-1, 3-2-1 Eastern College Athletic Conference) despite allowing the Tigers to cancel out the score heading into the final frame. Oliver Chau buried his first goal of the season to lift the Minutemen to their eighth consecutive win.

“I think we did a good job of sticking to it today, not giving [Princeton] enough momentum to kind of take the game over to them,” Cale Makar said. “But at the end of the day, it’s just what we can control. Some bounces don’t go your way and I think today we stuck with it really well.”

UMass jumping out to a 2-0 lead was something we’ve all seen multiple times this season. Watching that lead disappear after two middle-frame tallies from the Tigers was also nothing new.

Thinking all the way back to the Minutemen’s weekend series against then-No.1 ranked Ohio State, UMass jumped out to an unexpected 3-0 lead with two goals in the first period and one more a little over six minutes into the middle frame.

The high-caliber Buckeyes had no problem registering back-to-back goals in the middle frame just five minutes apart to make it a one-goal game.

In both contests with Providence, UMass held a 2-0 advantage heading into the second period. The tenacious Friars managed to erase the comfortable lead each time either before the third period even started or just a handful of minutes in to the third.

Even against New Hampshire, the Minutemen sat on a 3-0 cushion from two goals in the first and an early one in the second but surrendered back-to-back Wildcat goals to put the game in reach for the UNH.

Yet every single time such a situation has arisen, UMass has found a way into the win column despite all of those lost leads.

“It’s frustrating that we probably had 30 scoring chances and only scored three goals,” said coach Greg Carvel when asked if losing the lead was frustrating. “The kids played hard and did exactly what we wanted them to do. We knew Princeton is a very effective offensive team, so to hold them to two goals is a good thing, but I think we easily should have scored six goals tonight.”

Makar made a point to mention how there are “bad breaks” and the puck sometimes goes “through our D-man’s legs,” resulting in some of the blown leads. But for a team with the second ranked scoring defense in Division I hockey, holding their opponents while sitting on a comfortable lead should come easily, right?

The blown leads on top of getting outshot in a handful of contests has made UMass a target for criticism, making its success, to some, seem like a fluke. But the question is, does it really matter when the team’s grit and determination ends up pulling out the win anyways?

Carvel knows there is no statistic for hard work, but there’s no question whether or not it’s been a consistent in the Minutemen’s gameplay this season.

“I read some stories on the internet about how we’re not supposed to be here and how it’s not for real – like we’re tricking and fooling everybody – and that we get outshot,” Carvel said, “but we had almost 50 shots tonight against a top-20 team. I give my kids a ton of credit, they just show up and play hard every night.

“I don’t know what the stat is for that, but we play hard. Every night. We have a good group of kids that do it right. We’re 11-1.”

Mollie Walker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MWalker2019.

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