Milestones will No. 2 UMass to Hockey East regular-season championship

First league title in Minutemen history

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(Caroline O’Connor)

By Liam Flaherty, Collegian Staff

NORTH ANDOVER — It was a night of record-setting milestones for the Massachusetts hockey team.

Just two years removed from a 17-game losing streak that capped a dismal first season under the direction of newly-hired coach Greg Carvel, No. 2 UMass captured its first Hockey East Association regular-season title on Thursday, recording a program-best 25th win of the season in the process.

Trailing by a goal entering the third period, the Minutemen (25-7-0, 17-5-0 HEA) stormed back just as they’ve done all season long and scored a trio of unanswered goals to cement the milestone victory.

“It’s a group of kids that have really come together and no one expected this out of them,” Carvel said in the tunnel after the win. “They’ve carried it all season long and even tonight, going into the third period down a goal — they’ve just always risen. They’ve risen all year long. You don’t get experiences like that very often and to see these kids be rewarded for what they’ve given for the past two years is awesome.”

“Ben Barr told the guys this week, ‘It’s harder to win the league championship than it is to win the playoff championship’,” Carvel said of the assistant head coach. “Because its 24 games that you have to be the best team. Our program’s never done this before, there have only been five teams in Hockey East that have won the regular season championship, so it’s very special. It’s an incredible honor to win this.”

Aside from its first-ever regular-season title, UMass broke two more records on the outskirts of Boston.

Sophomore defenseman Cale Makar picked up his 26th assist of the season on Jake Gaudet’s go-ahead, third-period tally, setting a program record for defenseman assists. He also scored twice in the action.

“It’s pretty special,” Makar said. “We’ve had a lot of adversity in terms of games like this and we knew we were coming into the third down, but we were optimistic, and we knew that all we needed was one shot to get us going. Fortunately, there we got a couple of good bounces and it worked out really well.”

Fellow sophomore Matt Murray also broke a record during the regular-season title win. Spurred by his 20th victory, he shattered current-NHL netminder Jonathan Quick’s single-season win record from 2007.

“I think at the same time as it’s my 20th win, I think that just shows a lot about the team,” he said. “All the guys have been amazing, making it a relatively easy year for me compared to how it could’ve been. They’re diving in front of pucks head first and they’re putting their bodies on the line. It’s amazing to see the courage that our team has. I think that’s one of the biggest attributes to have that 20-win season.”

For a Minutemen team that’s stayed focused all year, Carvel said, Thursday’s historic win was different.

“We’ve stayed real focused on the next step all year and not looked to something like this,” he said. “But now you get there — these kids, they deserve it. They can stay up all night with the trophy if they want.”

“It’s just such a great feeling to have that,” Murray added. “Now we just have to carry that on.”

With still two regular season games remaining following the regular-season title, and a postseason run ahead of it, UMass is primed to keep the ball rolling.

“It was our short-term goal and it’s great,” Carvel said, commenting on the future. “I’m glad we took care of it tonight and now we’ll focus on our next goal, which, we’ll have to figure out what that is.”

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