UMass storms back in the third period, downs Merrimack 3-2

Cal Kiefiuk scored the game-winner with 42 seconds left

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Collegian File Photo

By Liam Flaherty, Assistant Sports Editor

NORTH ANDOVER – It wasn’t pretty, but two points is two points, and the Massachusetts hockey team found a way to get it done on Saturday night.

Trailing 2-0 midway through the second period, the Minutemen (8-3-1, 4-3-1 Hockey East) scored three straight goals to storm back and steal a win against Merrimack to finish off the weekend series. After Ty Farmer tied it late in the third, Cal Kiefiuk potted the game-winner with 42 seconds to play.

With Colin Felix protecting the puck in the corner, Kiefiuk made a spot for himself in front of Warriors’ (2-8-2, 1-4-2 HEA) netminder Troy Kobryn, where he got the puck from Felix and tipped it home, giving UMass the late 3-2 edge.

“I knew he was going to get it to me,” Kiefiuk said following the comeback win. “We’ve been preaching to get to front of the net and get bodies there and be hard on your stick, so he just threw it out front and I was hard on my stick. I got a piece of it and it found its way into the back of the net.”

“Through two periods it was kind of déjà vu,” said coach Greg Carvel, coming off Friday night’s 2-2 tie in Amherst. “We play well for stretches then take bad penalties and the power play’s not scoring, so it felt like déjà vu all over, but the third period was a real nice sign of the character of this team.”

After going 1-3 away from the Mullins Center early in the season, the Minutemen overcame their road woes with the comeback effort, sticking to their philosophy that pucks on net will turn the tides.

“We’re resilient,” Kiefiuk said. “We had no doubt going in between periods that we weren’t going to come away with two points. The message in the room was just to continue to pound the rock.”

UMass found a way to get the late win all the while playing with five defensemen for the second time this season. After Matt Kessel was served a five-minute major and a game misconduct for an elbow to the head of Chase Gresock in the second period, Merrimack scored its second of the night on an extended 5-on-3. But from that point on, the five Minutemen defensemen held it down.

Carvel was most pleased with the performance of Ty Farmer in the undermanned defensive end.

“I thought he was great,” Carvel said. “I thought he really stepped up tonight, played his game, he was very mobile, good puck decisions, and I’m really happy for him that he scored that goal. He needs that just to kind of get that monkey off his back.”

Play was scoreless after 20 minutes, with both sides struggling to get much of anything going.

After Regan Kimens was sent to the box in the final seconds of the first, UMass opened the second period on the power play, but its immense struggles with the extra skater early in the season continued.

With 20 seconds left on the advantage, Merrimack got aggressive and scored a short-handed goal.

The puck skittered out of the offensive zone and Sami Tavernier picked it up, took it the other way and fed Tyler Irvine across the crease, and Irvine banged it past Filip Lindberg to build a 1-0 lead.

Merrimack doubled its lead eight minutes later with Bobby Kaiser and Jeremy Davidson in the box, serving Kessel’s five-minute major. 20 seconds into the two-man advantage, Mac Welsher took a pass from Tavernier and pulled off a quick shimmy to fool Lindberg and, slide it through his legs to make it 2-0. After allowing the second goal, Lindberg (12 saves) was pulled in favor of Matt Murray.

The Minutemen killed off the 4:38 remaining from Kessel’s major penalty, and things started to turn.

With under five minutes to play in the middle frame, Jake McLaughlin sent a shot in on Kobryn that Kiefiuk found with his position in front of the net and tipped home to cut the deficit in half.

After a back-and-forth start to the third and several momentum-shifting stops from Murray to keep the Minutemen within one, desperation mode started to kick in, and Farmer’s wrist shot from the top of the right dot broke the barrier, opening the door for Kiefiuk’s late-game heroics.

Davidson, who wasn’t even supposed to dress tonight but was thrust into the lineup after Niko Hildenbrand sustained an injury during warmups, got the assist on Farmer’s first of the season.

With 42 seconds remaining and an overtime period looming for the second straight game, Felix kept the puck in the offensive zone and got it to the net-front area where Kiefiuk was stationed.

In what felt like the blink of an eye the Minutemen had the lead, and they quickly closed the door.

Regardless of the heart shown in the comeback win, UMass still has issues it needs to work out.

The Minutemen committed six penalties on the night, and only managed three shots in their three opportunities on the power play, along with the short-handed marker they allowed in the second.

“I thought Friday night was as bad as [we have] played in two years,” Carvel said, “and that’s not to take anything away from Merrimack, I thought Merrimack played very well Friday night, but we weren’t very good, we weren’t playing up to our standard. I thought we were closer to our standard tonight, but the selfish penalties are the one issue we still have, and the power play.”

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