John Leonard keys No. 3 UMass to top-10 weekend sweep

The junior scored four goals in the sweep of Northeastern

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John Leonard keys No. 3 UMass to top-10 weekend sweep

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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John Leonard is on another level.

In the Massachusetts hockey team’s home-and-home sweep of No. 10 Northeastern, the junior from Amherst racked up four points on four goals, scoring two in each of the matchups between top-10 teams.

His offensive prowess has seen a major uptick through the first month of the season, somehow from the already-elite level it was at last season and the year before, but a minute into the third period of Saturday’s affair, tied 2-2, his recent stretch of elite forward play reached a high point.

With the puck skittering up the right half wall in the Huskies (4-3-1, 1-2 Hockey East) zone after Jack Suter poked it up the boards, Leonard collected it with a defender on his back and another closing in on his front. He guarded the rock before making a quick shift out of the impending sandwich and broke into open ice at the right point. Seemingly at will, he deked out TJ Walsh barreling his way, before evading Mike Kesselring’s poke check to line up his sights on Craig Pantano (30 saves). Like the pure, elite goal-scorer he is, No. 9 snapped it home for the winner.

It all happened in a matter of seconds but with his effort, UMass (6-1, 2-1 HEA) took the lead and never looked back en route to the series sweep after Mitchell Chaffee iced the 4-2 win with an empty netter.

“We’ve seen some really nice goals, but I think that’s the best one I’ve seen,” coach Greg Carvel said. “That was pure skill. He’s a gifted offensive player and there aren’t many kids at this level that can do that. When he got that puck we all knew it was probably coming, he gets focused and determined like that and he’s so fast, the fast hands, strong kid, so I don’t think any of us were surprised he was gonna attempt it, to actually pull it off was something else. Beautiful goal.”

“I don’t know,” Leonard said with a laugh, asked what was going through his mind. “I was able to capitalize on a little bit of room and [caught] the goalie a bit low and put it over his shoulder.”

After crashing into the boards, chants of “Leonard, Leonard, Leonard” rang out in the arena.

Not bad for the hometown kid.

Though six games, Leonard leads the Minutemen in scoring with seven goals. Last weekend, he scored the game-winner against American International. On Friday, he tied it on the power play, and tonight he potted the first goal with 10 seconds to play in the first period.

He’s always been an elite scorer for No. 3 UMass, but something’s just different his junior year.

“John’s a great example of a kid who’s used college to develop his game to really impressive levels,” Carvel said after the win. “He was a kid that came in here — how he’s grown physically in the weight room, the consistency of his game emotionally, he gained a step this summer. He’s a pure goal-scorer who is now as fast as anybody in the league and he gets stronger every day.”

Carvel has continually challenged Leonard to be a more effective player away from the puck in the last two seasons, and now you get why he’s emphasized that point of development so much.

“He was nowhere near a two-way player when he got here, now he’s a very reliable player,” Carvel said. “He competes, he’s hard, just a gifted scorer. There aren’t many kids like him.

“His consistency this year has been outstanding. He’s really impressed me. I couldn’t be prouder of him. We’ve challenged him. He’s a kid that came here, we were told certain things by some junior coaches like, ‘oh this kid, good luck with him.’ Pft. Send me a bunch more please. Great kid. He has pushed himself; he’s developed, he’s become a better player and that’s him.”

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