Penalty kill pushes UMass hockey to late win over AIC at Mullins

The penalty kill unit is a perfect 26-of-26 on the season

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(Parker Peters/Daily Collegian)

By Liam Flaherty, Assistant Sports Editor

Tied at one-all with American International midway through the second period on Friday night at the Mullins Center, the Massachusetts hockey team relied on the success of its penalty kill to pull out the late win.

With the puck in the Yellow Jackets’ (1-2, 0-1 Atlantic Hockey) zone, Anthony Del Gaizo flew towards the action and AIC captain Hugo Reinhardt handling the puck. With his back turned, Del Gaizo made contact to the head of the unsuspecting forward which knocked off his bucket and sent him spiraling to the ice.

After scoring the first goal of the night in the first period to make it 1-0, Del Gaizo was assessed a five-minute major and a disqualification, sending the Minutemen (4-1, 0-1 Hockey East) to a lengthy kill. Two minutes in, Zac Jones was sent to the box for a cross-check making it 5-on-3 for a full two minutes.

“Easiest call a ref will ever make,” coach Greg Carvel said. “Clear head shot. Poor discipline. Then we take a hitting from behind penalty, that’s just lack of engagement, it’s a lack of mental preparedness.”

Up two skaters, AIC got its best chance to take the lead in their eventual 4-1 defeat.

But No. 3 UMass’ penalty kill wouldn’t let it happen and didn’t budge.

With the home crowd roaring, the Minutemen buckled down when they needed to most and held the Yellow Jackets to a single shot on the extended two-man disadvantage that came from Del Gaizo’s hit.

Bobby Trivigno came up with a big block to keep Matt Murray (15 saves) out of harm’s way early, then Colin Felix followed it up with a few of his own, getting in front of AIC shots from the points. Mitchell Chaffee completed it with a booming hit in the defensive end that led to a shorthanded bid down the other way. Each time the puck was cleared out of the defensive zone or a shot was blocked and steered out of harm’s way, the UMass faithful roared with admiration for the heart shown by the Minutemen.

“The energy was great in the building,” said John Leonard, who scored the game-winner with three minutes to play. “When Felix made those blocks the place erupted and we definitely feed off that energy.”

With the kill complete, UMass remained in contention entering the third leading up to Leonard’s goal.

“They were 19-for-19 prior to tonight and we saw that firsthand,” Yellow Jackets’ coach Eric Lang said following the game. “Their penalty kill really disrupted what we were trying to do. To UMass’ credit they blocked some shots, they get some clears and they were feeding off the energy of the building, it helped disrupt it. There’s no doubt about it. We were out of sync and how hard UMass killed was a big factor.

“It was 1-1 after two periods and you walked into the room and it felt like we were down 5-1.”

The kill marked the second from the Minutemen this season, the other coming against Northeastern. In total, UMass killed all seven of the penalties that it committed during the start-and-stop affair, which amounted to 27 penalty minutes. With the seven kills, the Minutemen improve to 26-of-26 this season.

“AIC’s a good team, an extremely well coached team. The fact that we were able to shut their power play down in the situations that they had is a sign of the character of our guys,” Carvel said of the unit.

“I think our aggressiveness, we talked a lot about it on the penalty kill,” Leonard added. “Even though we’re down a guy we still have to be aggressive and we still have to always be pressuring that puck and force them to try to make plays under pressure. I could roll through a list of guys that made some big time plays throughout the penalty kill. When you have everyone going and everyone trying to get the puck out of the zone it makes it a lot easier, and Murray making some big plays really helps too.”

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