Freshman forwards adding depth to bottom six early in the season

Lebster and Kiefiuk combine for eight points through first four games

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Freshman forwards adding depth to bottom six early in the season

(Nina Walat/Daily Collegian)

(Nina Walat/Daily Collegian)

(Nina Walat/Daily Collegian)

(Nina Walat/Daily Collegian)

By Liam Flaherty, Assistant Sports Editor

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The third line of the Massachusetts hockey team played a big role in downing Union last weekend.

With senior captain Niko Hildenbrand at center, freshman wingers Reed Lebster and Cal Kiefiuk were the driving force behind the six points the line accumulated in the dominant two-game sweep.

Although the top two forward lines had more productive weekends on the stat sheet – each combined for eight points in the series – the key to the Minutemen’s (3-1, 0-1 Hockey East) success was scoring all throughout their lineup.

Moving forward, No. 3 UMass will look to continue relying on that same level of production from the young guys in the bottom six to spread the wealth among a lineup that’s deeper than ever before.

“That’s what we thought we’d see grow up this year, we’d be a deeper team offensively,” coach Greg Carvel said after practice Tuesday. “Cal’s got two goals and Reed’s got three through four games, so let’s hope they keep that up. It’s nice to see we can get third line scoring from [them].”

After potting his first-career goal in the third period of the season opener against Rensselaer — assisted by Kiefiuk — Lebster scored twice in Friday’s win to boost his season total to three.

No. 13 Lebster isn’t afraid to get into the dirty areas when he’s on the ice, an attribute that’s made him extremely effective thus far. On his first goal on Friday, he crept into the net-front area, found space in front of the goaltender and tipped home a Zac Jones laser from the point. With time winding down, the freshman showed off his nose for the puck once again, got in front of the netminder’s eyes and tipped home another point shot from Colin Felix to collect his second tally of the game.

“That’s what we liked in him when we recruited him,” Carvel said following the game. “My assistants don’t let me recruit very much but once in a while I go out on the road and the one game I saw him play he scored three goals. He’s just a guy that scores. Some guys just know how to do it. If we can get him a little quicker, a little stronger, a little harder, he’s going to be a real good player for us.”

“It’s been awesome to get a few points,” Lebster said coming off his three-point weekend. “Knowing the systems, getting those down and just trusting my teammates has really helped me to play fast.”

Kiefiuk picked up a late assist on Lebster’s second tally on Friday and added onto an early 1-0 lead for UMass on Saturday, scoring his second goal of the year 10 minutes into the first period. In the season opener, his individual effort in the neutral zone allowed him to score his first of the year and jumpstart the offense that got off to a slow start.

Coming out of the United States Hockey League, the freshmen have been tasked with important roles in the early going of their collegiate careers. In his second year as the team’s primary captain, Hildebrand has been there for them to lean on.

“If we have any questions when we get back to the bench, it’s been really nice to ask him,” Lebster said of Hildebrand. “He’s really helped us out.”

Entering Friday’s home affair with American International (1-2, 1-0 Atlantic Hockey), Lebster looks to stay the course along with Kiefiuk in their roles as young scorers.

“Just keeping my confidence up and keep going the way I’m going,” Lebster said. “I think I’ve had a pretty good start here, so I’m just trying to build off that.”

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