Put on the first d-pairing, Matt Kessel helps UMass to 4-1 win

Kessel scored on goal on Saturday

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Put on the first d-pairing, Matt Kessel helps UMass to 4-1 win

(Parker Peters/Daily Collegian)

(Parker Peters/Daily Collegian)

(Parker Peters/Daily Collegian)

(Parker Peters/Daily Collegian)

By Noah Bortle, Assistant Sports Editor

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Coming off their second-straight loss, Massachusetts coach Greg Carvel made a change to his defensive pairings, moving Matt Kessel up to the first d-pairing alongside Jake McLaughlin.

“That was a good opportunity,” Kessel said of earning the start on the first unit alongside the senior defenseman, McLaughlin. “It’s great getting the opportunity to just keep playing.”

Kessel wouldn’t disappoint in his new role. In UMass’ (7-3, 3-3 Hockey East) 4-1 defeat of Boston University (3-4-4, 2-3-3 HEA), the freshman converted on a rebound attempt from in front of the crease with 4:36 remaining in the game to stretch the Minuteman advantage to 3-1.

With the puck along the boards, Kessel played a pass behind the net to McLaughlin who was stymied by the pads of Terrier goaltender Sam Tucker. With the puck about to be cleared by BU, Kessel won the battle to the puck and put home a backhanded shot for his third goal of the year.

Coming into the weekend, Carvel emphasized the need for UMass to posses more a net-front presence, saying the Minutemen were being “too cute” when trying to score following the loss to New Hampshire. Kessel burying a second chance rebound was just what Carvel was looking for.

“I thought that was a great goal by Kessel there,” Carvel said. “We kept pounding the rock and Kessel was the one who finally pounded it and broke it.”

A night removed from a 4-3 loss in the first game of the weekend series, Carvel made the move with the hope of slowing down the Terriers’ top line. After compiling five points on Friday, the potent first line was slowed down on Saturday going up against the Kessel-McLaughlin pairing.

“We went up against their top line pretty much the whole evening,” Kessel said. “It was fun competing against them and [McLaughlin]’s a great player to play with, so it was a lot of fun.”

The unit responded with just one point, an assist by winger Patrick Curry on BU’s lone goal of the night.

“We wanted to put our best two defensive-defensemen together,” Carvel said. “I wanted to basically have a shutdown pair. We didn’t match a front line against their first line, but we wanted those two out there because they’re our most reliable defensive guys.”

Earning the start at home, Kessel came flying out of the gate. On the freshman’s first shift, he landed hits on multiple BU skaters, setting the tone in the first period that saw the Minutemen outplay the Terriers to the tune of a 19-8 shot advantage.

“It’s always fun starting a game in the Mullins Center,” Kessel said.

With 2:57 remaining in the game, it appeared as though Kessel had recorded his second point of the night. The defenseman ripped a shot from the point where Cal Kiefiuk redirected the puck past Tucker for what appeared to be the fourth UMass goal of the night. A review would rule that Kiefiuk was guilty of a high stick on the play and Kessel’s second point was taken off the board.

Despite being paired with McLaughlin for the first time, Kessel didn’t lack any level of comfort with his new partner.

“We all play with each other in practice and stuff,” Kessel said, “and we’re all very comfortable being around each other all the time. So, it’s not too big of an adjustment at all.”

With Marc Del Gaizo likely to return next weekend, more changes on the defensive end can be expected for the Minutemen. While Kessel may not find himself skating with McLaughlin again, he rewarded Carvel’s decision on Saturday night, helping the Minutemen end their two-game skid.

Noah Bortle can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @noah_bortle.