UMass beats RPI 5-3 in season opener

The Minutemen snuck past the Engineers in a game highlighted by freshmen scoring and a big second period


(Will Katcher/Daily Collegian)

By Evan Marinofsky, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts hockey team came out with something to prove in the second period.

After a dismal first period that saw the Minutemen outshot 12-9 and down 1-0, UMass (1-0) put all the pressure on Rensselaer in the second with three straight goals en route to a 5-3 win.

“It’s the opening game of the season and everything’s not going to be clicking your way right away,” junior captain Mitchell Chaffee said. “It was a good adjustment in the beginning of the game. I thought we continually got better.”

It all began just 2:11 into the second when freshman Cal Kiefiuk knocked down a shot from RPI (0-1) defenseman Simon Kjellberg and took off. In his first collegiate game, Kiefiuk split the two defenders and went in on a breakaway on RPI goalie Owen Savory.

Just Kiefiuk and Savory.

Kiefiuk won this battle, as he went backhand-forehand and put the puck right over the fallen Engineer goaltender to make it 1-1.

“After it happened it was surreal,” Kiefiuk said of his first lamp-lighter. “It’s a pretty loud building – it’s the first time I’ve been in a building like that. It was good. And with all these guys congratulating me, it felt good to get the first one out of the way.”

Later in the second, freshman Zac Jones entered the RPI zone and threw one on Savory. The rebound went right to Mitchell Chaffee who put it over the pads of the outstretched RPI goalie to make it 2-1 UMass.

It was Jones’ first collegiate point.

The Jones-Chaffee connection didn’t stop there. Just 69 seconds later, Chaffee weaved his way through the zone and around the RPI defense. Jones hovered around the top of the left circle, which is exactly where the junior dished him the puck, and the freshman placed one past Savory’s blocker to make it 3-1.

And that was Jones’ first collegiate goal.

Not a bad night for No. 24.

“Not bad,” said Carvel of Jones’ debut. “The goal was obviously a highlight. He still, like all the freshmen, doesn’t understand how hard you have to play. Doesn’t understand you can’t cheat the game a little bit. Not a little bit or you’re cheating the team. Just can’t do that.

“And that’s for all the freshmen and we saw that out of all of them.”

Despite the freshmen’s learning curve, the Minutemen outshot RPI 19-5 in the second period alone, which was highlighted by being up 15-1 in the shot column with six minutes remaining in the frame.

However, the Engineers made it a much closer game in the third period when just under four minutes into the frame, senior Patrick Polino carried the puck into the zone and stopped on a dime, leaving Ty Farmer in his dust and ripping one past Filip Lindberg to make it 3-2.

But just 17 seconds later, UMass responded in a big way with another freshman scoring their first collegiate goal, as Reed Lebster one-timed a shot past Savory off a pass from Kiefiuk to make it 4-2.

Lebster was the third freshman of the night to score.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Chaffee of all the freshmen scoring. “I’m so happy for them. I hope they keep scoring. We’ve had a couple of guys leave last year that put up some points. I think a lot of these freshmen can put up a lot of points this year and they’re going to be a big part of our team.”

The Engineers put up one final push when freshman winger Ryan Mahshie snuck one over the glove of Lindberg to make it 4-3.

But their comeback fell just short when Chaffee added his second goal of the night on an empty-netter with 1:16 to go.

Out of their three goals, RPI scored two through shots that Lindberg missed with his glove.

Lindberg finished the night stopping 20 of RPI’s 23 shots. On the other side of the ice, Savory made 34 saves on 38 shots.

“You don’t give up three goals,” said Carvel of Lindberg’s play. “The goalie is supposed to make saves and he’ll make some good saves but can’t let up three goals. Our goalies know that.”

The Minutemen had a rough go of it in the first period with sloppy defensive zone play. That was highlighted when freshman Gianfranco Cassaro’s turnover directly led to RPI’s Zach Dubinsky’s wrister right over the glove of Lindberg to open the scoring.

“Not to do it again,” Carvel said of what Cassaro could learn from his costly turnover. “I just talked about puck management – it’s everything. Especially for those young guys. We tried to make the game easier for them tonight and I understand. It’s very tough to play your first game at this level.”

Last season, UMass trounced RPI in the opener 6-1, which led some to believe the same would take place this season given the Minutemen’s rank.

Carvel didn’t seem to mind having to grind this one out.

“I do,” the Minutemen’s bench boss said of having a tough battle in the first game. “I think it’s good that we were pushed and it’s a one-goal game 10 minutes to go and we didn’t give up too much and we found a way to score that fifth goal on the empty net. But I do agree because we went into this game – I know polls don’t mean anything – I needed to find out who we are.

“We lost some big players and they’re hard to replace and you need to do it as a group. And as a group, we need to be better or we’re not going to win games.”

Evan Marinofsky can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @emarinofsky.