Massachusetts Daily Collegian

John Leonard plays key role in No. 3 UMass’ weekend sweep of the Eagles

The sophomore owns goals in six of his last eight games

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John Leonard plays key role in No. 3 UMass’ weekend sweep of the Eagles

(Jon Asgeirsson/Daily Collegian)

(Jon Asgeirsson/Daily Collegian)

(Jon Asgeirsson/Daily Collegian)

(Jon Asgeirsson/Daily Collegian)

By Liam Flaherty, Collegian Staff

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CHESTNUT HILL — John Leonard’s February has been scorching hot for the Massachusetts hockey team and the sophomore’s recent success came to a pinnacle during No. 3 UMass’ sweep of Boston College.

The Amherst native’s second-period tally on Friday allowed the Minutemen (23-6-0, 15-4-0 Hockey East Association) to tie it up and eventually beat the Eagles (10-16-3, 9-7-3 HEA) for the first time in six years. At Conte Forum, Leonard notched the tying goal once again as UMass earned its 23rd victory of the season.

Following the win, Leonard moved atop the Hockey East scoring list with 28 points in 18 league games.

“With the puck, I always like [Leonard’s] play,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said after the win. “With John, he’s pretty good without the puck, but he’s a really gifted offensive player — really gifted. I don’t know how many guys at this level are better than him with the puck on his stick. He’s a really gifted player.”

Over the course of the weekend sweep of BC, the sophomore picked up three points on a pair of goals.

During his last eight games, Leonard’s recorded six goals and 10 points.

As the Minutemen embark on the final stretch of their regular-season schedule, the winger has returned to his regular scoring ways and, alongside line mates Jacob Pritchard and Philip Lagunov, his explosion has come at a perfect time.

“I think as a line we’re starting to play really well,” he said after the resounding sweep. “We know where each other are and I think we have that really good connection going right now and it’s working for us.”

On Friday night, after cutting the deficit to one, Cale Makar fed Leonard with a precise backdoor pass, which the sophomore goal-scorer quickly snapped past the diving body of Eagles’ netminder Joe Woll.

Trailing by a goal at the start of the second period on Saturday, Leonard got the play going on his own. After crossing the blue line unscathed, he split a pair of Eagle defensemen and put a shot on Woll. After the junior saved it, Pritchard collected the rebound and returned it to Leonard, who slammed it home.

Spurred by Leonard’s equalizer just 42 seconds into the frame, the Minutemen scored twice more in the second period and gave themselves enough insurance to pull out the sweep over their Hockey East rival.

“I think I was just trying to shoot the puck a little more,” Leonard said. “Today, it just kind of bounced out to me in the slot and I was fortunate enough to put it in and we kind of just went from there.”

With 33 points through 28 games, the sophomore has already surpassed his point-total from his freshman season with five Hockey East matchups still remaining on the regular-season schedule.

For him, and UMass overall, downing BC twice in the same weekend is a great sign nearing the finish.

“It’s never easy to win in a place like this, just in Boston in general, and it’s been a long time since this program has won a game in this building,” he said. “For us to do it that way — we never quit — to come back last night and tonight, there’s just a lot of pride in this team that we never quit and keep going.”

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

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