Matt Murray backboned UMass hockey to sweep vs Vermont

Minutemen netminder stifled the Catamounts in weekend series

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Matt Murray backboned UMass hockey to sweep vs Vermont

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

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Matt Murray did his job and then some in the Massachusetts hockey team’s sweep over Vermont at the Mullins Center.

In the two-game series, the sophomore goalie made 41 saves, with a couple of game-altering stops included in the mix, to backstop No. 2 UMass (17-3-0, 9-1-0 Hockey East Association) against the lowly Catamounts (8-11-1, 1-8-1 HEA).

In the Minutemen’s 4-1 win Friday night, Murray denied UVM defenseman Matt O’Donnell late in the game with a dazzling glove save. Saturday, the netminder from St. Albert, Alberta took a gamble in the first period when he deserted his crease and won a foot-race to a loose puck against an incoming Catamount, breaking up a breakaway bid. That was about as much action as he saw, making just 16 saves in the second game.

The two wins brought his season total up to 14 victories and marked the 23rd of his career as well, matching Jonathan Quick’s career total in a Minuteman uniform.

Quick, the current LA Kings netminder, starred for UMass from 2005-07.

“We challenged him last summer and the way he practices now, the way he carries himself, the way he’s become a leader of the team, the way he competes in the game, last year he didn’t fight to see pucks, this year he battles to see pucks,” coach Greg Carvel said. “There’s nothing better for a coach when you look at your goalie and that just settles you. It just calms you. There’s nothing worse as a coach when you look at your goalie and you start to itch and shake. For two years here, that was the case but now, Murray has been outstanding, just outstanding.”

The 6-foot-1, 196-pound goalie echoed his coach’s statement 24 hours earlier.

“I think the biggest thing is just increasing my battle [level] both in games and in practices, especially in practices this year,” Murray said after Friday’s game. “I was challenged by the coaches to make that next step and I’ve been working towards that and I can see it paying off on games.”

Murray made his fourth straight start in net since returning from break Saturday—the longest consecutive streak of the season—and looked as sharp as ever.

Cale Makar felt Murray’s demeanor stood out in the weekend series.

“He’s just a very calm player,” Makar said. “I compare him a lot to Carter Hart. I’ve heard a lot about him and just how he has ice in his veins, especially when I played with him at the World Juniors, it amazed me how calm he was just before the game and even during the game. I think Murray has got a lot of that in him and he’s able to be a brick wall for us back there and I think that’s what keeps us going throughout the entire year.”

Murray’s goaltending style doesn’t revolve around making flashy or highlight-reel saves, rather his sound positioning and subtle confidence allow him to be in the right spot at the right time to swallow up pucks thrown his way.

Combine that with the fact that his energy hasn’t dwindled all that much, the Minutemen should continue to reap the benefits of it’s No. 1 goalie moving forward.

“Everything is just natural to him right now and that’s how he looks,” Carvel said. “That save [Friday] night was such a huge save in a very timely part of the game, but we see it everyday in practice. He’s transferring what he does in practice to the games and he’s another one that continues to get better. What a sign that is.”

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.