No. 3 UMass finishes off weekend sweep of No. 10 Northeastern with 4-2 win Saturday

John Leonard’s third period beauty the difference Saturday

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No. 3 UMass finishes off weekend sweep of No. 10 Northeastern with 4-2 win Saturday

Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Evan Marinofsky, Collegian Staff

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The Massachusetts hockey team took down Northeastern 4-2 on Saturday night in a matchup of two of the nation’s top-10 teams.

Saturday night’s win finished off a weekend sweep for the No. 3 Minutemen (6-1-0, 2-1 Hockey East), who beat the No. 10 Huskies 6-3 on Friday night.

“Before this weekend, I still didn’t know what our team was,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “So, this was going to be a great weekend to show what this year’s version actually is and I thought we played really well at times. But we should some real high character.”

It might be tough to rope in John Leonard’s game-winner as a “high character” play. But if there’s one thing for certain, it’s that it required a lot of skill.

One minute and 54 seconds into the third period, Leonard corralled the puck along the half wall, dangled through three Northeastern (4-3-1, 1-2-0 Hockey East) defenders and roofed it over goalie Craig Pantano’s glove for a very pretty goal and the eventual game-winner.

“I was able to capitalize on a little bit of room that they gave me,” Leonard said of his highlight-reel goal. “Was able to catch the goalie a little bit low and put it over his shoulder. [Jack Suter] and [Bobby Trivigno] created that as well and create a lot of space out there.”

His coach had some seriously high praise for the lamp-lighter.

“We’ve seen some really nice goals here,” Carvel said. “[That second goal] is the best one I’ve seen. That was pure skill. He’s a gifted offensive player. There aren’t many kids at this level who can do that. But it’s funny – he got that puck on the boards and we all knew it was probably coming. He gets focused and determined like that and he’s so fast, he’s got the fast hands and a strong kid. I don’t think any of us were surprised he was going to attempt it.

“To actually pull it off is something else. Beautiful goal.”

After a very back and forth rest of the third period, Mitchell Chaffee alleviated the Huskies last-second pressure when he fired the puck out of the zone and into the opposing empty net to make it 4-2.

Things began like they ended for the Minutemen – they dominated.

The Minutemen opened the scoring with 10 seconds remaining in the first when Leonard poked the puck past the Northeastern defense, broke in on a breakaway and casually put it over Pantano’s glove.

A common theme for UMass this season has been the frequency of their trips to the penalty box. After a penalty-free first period, Suter went off for cross-checking 13 seconds into the second and Gianfranco Cassaro sat out for two minutes for holding a few moments later.

Both penalties were successfully killed off.

Eight minutes into the middle frame and after killing off both penalties, Matthew Kessel ripped a shot from the point. Pantano made the initial save, but Jeremy Davidson was right there to put home the rebound to make it 2-0 UMass.

It was also the first of his career.

“Happy to get it off my back,” Davidson said of his goal.

The Northeastern power play finally broke through 14 minutes into the period when Aidan McDonough one-timed a shot through Matt Murray’s glove hand to cut the lead in half.

Right before the goal took place, Kessel collided with Zach Solow in the corner. In the collision, Kessel contacted his head, and was therefore kicked out, putting the Minutemen on the penalty kill for five minutes.

They killed it off and even drew a penalty with 47 seconds left on it, making it a 4-on-4 for the time being. At the end of that though, it was John Picking scoring a shorthanded goal for the Huskies over Murray’s right shoulder to tie the game with just six seconds remaining in the second period.

“Special teams are a really big factor in our league,” Leonard said. “You can never get caught sleeping even when you’re on the power play. They took advantage of a turnover we had in our offensive zone power play and we didn’t get enough guys back. We just got to stay on top of it.”

Over the two-game sweep, the Minutemen outscored the Huskies 10-5. For team identity’s sake, the matchup with Northeastern provided a boost of confidence for the Minutemen.

“Yeah, it’s huge,” Leonard said. “Any time you can win a Hockey East game to begin with is big time. Northeastern’s a great team – they’re a top-10 team in the country. It was a tough series. Kind of stole a game last night from them and tonight we were able to come out on top again and just coming out fast and doing what we do is tough to beat.”

Evan Marinofsky can be reached at emarinofsky@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @emarinofsky.