As Chaffee and Leonard score all the goals, Greg Carvel worries about UMass’ secondary scoring

UMass looks for more scoring from the rest of the lineup as they prepare to take on UNH


(Nina Walat/Daily Collegian)

By Evan Marinofsky, Assistant Sports Editor

It’s a toss-up as to who the Massachusetts hockey team’s best forward is.

If you’re in the mood for a more well-rounded, gritty game, Mitchell Chaffee would be who you’d choose. If speed, skill and highlight reel goals are more your taste, I present you John Leonard.

Both were recently nominated for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award and both have their own unique cases for why they should win.

As of late, Leonard’s been on a scoring tear. No. 9 has six goals in his last five games. He has 10 in his last 11.

His 17 goals are already a career-high, and there’s still many more games to play.

“I’m just trying to use my feet a little bit more,” Leonard said of his scoring streak. “I’m playing with two really great players right now – [Jack] Suter and [Bobby] Trivigno. They do a great job feeding off each other and getting pucks to the net and I’ve been fortunate enough to get a few breakaways of late and be able to capitalize.”

The breakaways have been something that have become quite the trend of late.

“I just think he’s fast,” Trivigno said of Leonard. “I think in our last five games he’s had like four breakaway goals. He has tremendous speed and I think that’s a big part of his game. He’s such an elite scorer. When he’s on a breakaway, he’s deadly.”

As he said, part of how Leonard is earning those breakaways is through speed – you can’t be slow and find yourself alone with the opposing goalie. But another large part of it comes from something in UMass’ (16-7-1, 9-4-1 HEA) gameplan: put pressure on the other team’s defensemen when they have the puck at the point.

Exhibit A of this came in their 3-1 win over Boston College four games back. Leonard put pressure on the defenseman with the puck, forced him to pass to his partner and simultaneously intercepted the pass. Leonard caught both defenders flat-footed and blazed in on Spencer Knight, potting the opening score.

The second example of this came in UMass’ latest win over Vermont. On a defensive zone draw, Leonard intercepted the pass back to the Catamount defenseman and flew past his partner, creating a 1-on-1 with goalie Stefanos Lekkas and beating him five-hole.

“I think it’s all luck,” Leonard said of these plays. “I don’t know, I guess my stick was in the right spot. Maybe a little puck lucky. I’ll take those bounces any day.”

Being humble must be part of the game plan as well.

Along with Leonard, Chaffee has been scoring as well. In his last six games, he has four lamplighters.

The problem comes with the scoring drop-off after those two.

“It’s great that John and Mitch score a ton of goals,” head coach Greg Carvel said. “But we’ve got to get other guys scoring. That’s one of our focus points along with our special teams that I thought made a step forward last week.”

Since the calendar turned to 2020, the next leading scorers after the two Hobey Baker nominees are Matthew Kessel and Jake McLaughlin with two apiece. After that, it’s Jack Suter, Marc Del Gaizo, Jake Gaudet and Trivigno with one each.

The freshmen have also slowed down a bit. Aside from Kessel, the rest of the rookies haven’t been lighting up the scoresheet as they were at the beginning of the season. Zac Jones has two assists since returning from the World Juniors. Reed Lebster has an assist since 2020 began. Cal Kiefiuk hasn’t scored a goal since the end of November.

When asked about junior center Philip Lagunov, who’s only put up a goal and four assists this season, Carvel used him as a microcosm of what’s going on with the offense.

“He needs to find ways to get on the scoresheet, but he’s doing other good things to help us win,” Carvel said of Lagunov. “The message to our team was we’ve got a good record, but you can’t be comfortable if you’re not putting points up. You need to do that to help the squad win.”

When it comes to season stats, Leonard’s 17 goals and Chaffee’s 16 are No. 1 and 2 on the team. After that is Kessel and Trivigno with seven.

“I think Kessel’s our third-leading goal scorer,” Carvel said. “So, we’ve got a defenseman who’s third in goals.”

If anyone predicted Kessel with third-most goals on the team at this point in the season, please email me your Powerball number guesses. You clearly have foresight the rest of us don’t have.

But even with the secondary scoring issues, all is still well in the UMass hockey world, as they currently sit atop Hockey East.

There’s just a couple of things that need to be tightened up.

“When we get our power play going and we get more guys scoring, we’ll be a tough team to play against,” Carvel said. “So that’s where we want to improve.”

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