Massachusetts Daily Collegian

No. 2 UMass falls to UML in second half opener

Minutemen drop their first game at home this season

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No. 2 UMass falls to UML in second half opener

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

(Caroline O'Connor/UMass Athletics)

By Liam Flaherty, Collegian Staff

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In its first matchup of 2019 since jumping out to a record start in the opening half of the regular season, the Massachusetts hockey team fell flat against UMass Lowell and lost on Friday, 2-1.

Following a solid start to the opening period, No. 2 UMass made a costly turnover in its neutral zone, which allowed the River Hawks (9-8-1, 5-4-1 Hockey East Association) to get on the board.

After trading goals in the second period, the Minutemen (14-3-0, 7-1-0 HEA) were unable to complete a comeback in the third, dropping their first home and league games of the season.

“It was one of those nights,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “You could see that we’ve been on break for a while. Some guys were missing half a step out there and our level wasn’t quite good enough. [Lowell] played a good road game, but we still played well enough to win. It was just one of those games that could’ve gone either way. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way tonight.”

The River Hawks, who already kicked off their second half on Dec. 31, took advantage of some key UMass mistakes early on and forced a handful of rough turnovers to set an uneasy tone.

Eight minutes in, Lowell’s peskiness paid off when Jake McLaughlin took a tumble skating out of his defensive zone, which allowed Reid Stefanson to find a breakaway and an early, 1-0 lead.

After deking out Matt Murray (19 saves) in the first period to amass their initial lead, the River Hawks took the once-undefeated (11-1) netminder by surprise once again in the second period.

In the midst of a line change, Connor Wilson jumped over the boards and into the slot to join the speeding rush. In one motion, the senior corralled a pass and snapped it past Murray.

Down by a pair of goals, the Minutemen found their skates and finally jumped on the board.

After a Colin Felix slap shot arrived on net around the large scrum of players shoving for position in front of Chris Hernberg (33 saves), Niko Hildenbrand slammed home a bouncing puck.

Hildenbrand’s second tally of the season at 7:20 pulled the Minutemen within one and gave life to the bench. But even with a handful of chances, UMass couldn’t tie it up in the final frame.

“I wasn’t unhappy with the way we played,” Carvel said following the team’s first loss since Dec. 7 against Quinnipiac. “We had a lot of chances, but I think the difference in the game was that Lowell did a better job of getting to the net — we weren’t at the net enough. That one goal we scored, we did a good job with guys screening the goalie and another guy going to the net.”

The Minutemen also went 0-2 on the power play on the night and registered just two shots.

“[Lowell] pressures well,” Carvel said. “They’re very similar to us. We try to provide a lot of pressure on the kill and they do the same. Again, you could just see the guys were out of shape with their compete level [tonight] and that’s just something that you can’t emulate in practice no matter how hard you try. You have to get in games and have that compete. On the power plays you could see it, we just weren’t able to compete as hard as we should’ve on the puck.”

UMass won’t have much of any time to regroup and sort out the details after its loss, as it travels to Springfield on Saturday for an early matchup with American International College.

“We just have to put it behind us,” Hildenbrand said. “It’s a new team, it’s a new day. As soon as Carvel walked into the locker room he said, ‘We gotta put that one behind us.’ We have a new game tomorrow, which is nice that we get a quick turnaround because we get an opportunity to go into another building and win, so were excited about it. It’s definitely tough coming from the late game tonight, but it’s just another opportunity for us to build and play even better.”

Puck drop with the Yellow Jackets (8-8-1, 8-5-1 Atlantic Hockey Conference) at the MassMutual Center is set for 2 p.m.

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

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