UMass finishes off sweep of Vermont, wins 3-1 Saturday night

Backed by production from defensemen, UMass beats UVM

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UMass finishes off sweep of Vermont, wins 3-1 Saturday night

(Collegian File Photo)

(Collegian File Photo)

(Collegian File Photo)

(Collegian File Photo)

By Evan Marinofsky, Assistant Sports Editor

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It took the Massachusetts hockey team less than two minutes to assert their dominance on Vermont on Saturday night.

With the faceoff in the UMass (16-7-1, 9-4-1 Hockey East) end, the Catamounts (3-15-3, 0-11-1 HEA) won the draw and shoveled the puck back toward their defensemen. There was only one problem: John Leonard beat the pass to the d-man and intercepted it in an instant.

The recent Hobey Baker nominee split the defense, sped in on goalie Stefanos Lekkas and slid it between his legs to give the Minutemen the early lead en route to a 3-1 win.

“What was important was how we came out,” coach Greg Carvel said of his team’s strong start. “I liked how we came out. We came out real well. We were dominating early on.”

Later in the period, Jake McLaughlin received a pass from Ty Farmer off an offensive zone draw. McLaughlin took it to the outside and down the boards. He threw it towards the net and it bounced off Lekkas and into the back of the net to give UMass the early 2-0 advantage.

It’s a common theme of this 2019-20 team: the boys in the back are a focal point of the scoring up front.

“It makes us a difficult team to play against when your blue line is an active part of your offense, so they all know that they’re expected to do that,” Carvel said. “Jake’s done a good job. It’s not his specialty – he’s a really good defensive-minded player. But that was a big goal.”

After a scoreless second period, the Catamounts got on the board halfway through the final 20 minutes when Matt Alvaro put a rebound past a sprawling Filip Lindberg to cut the UMass lead in half.

UVM looked to have some serious momentum heading into the game’s final stages. With the score 2-1 and the game in their barn, it felt like it was only a matter of time until the Catamounts tied one of the nation’s top college hockey teams.

But the Minutemen never wavered. In the minutes following Alvaro’s goal, they faced the brunt of the Catamount attack and then some. They had just as many offensive chances as UVM. Even while protecting the one-goal lead, the UMass d-men jumped up into the play and joined the rush consistently.

It culminated in Matthew Kessel finding himself in front of Lekkas and stuffing one past the netminder to add some insurance to the UMass lead and extend the score to 3-1.

“I thought we were really good after they made it 2-1,” Carvel said. “We had a lot of chances. We had the puck in the offensive zone for extended periods and created a lot of chances, so I thought it was a really good response by our guys.”

Despite the three goals by UMass, scoring on Lekkas still proved to be difficult Saturday night. The Catamount goalie was also recently nominated for the Hobey Baker award and proved his candidacy, stopping 36 of 39 shots.

Between McLaughlin’s goal and Kessel’s score late in the third, Lekkas looked unbeatable and kept Vermont in the game time after time.

“We’re not great at taking away the goalie’s eyes,” Carvel said. “We’re scoring rebound goals. We’re not good enough in that area. It’s probably why [Lekkas] was able to make a lot of saves tonight. I think we had 39 or 40 shots so we created enough but we didn’t make life tough enough on Lekkas.”

Lindberg had quite the night as well, stopping 34 of 35 shots, the biggest of which came in the first period on Max Kaufman’s penalty shot to keep the lead 2-0.

Saturday’s win completed the sweep after Friday’s 4-0 victory over UVM. Carvel called it “tough” to sweep a team and his squad’s numbers back it up – the dual W’s over Vermont mark only the Minutemen’s fourth series sweep of the season.

“Wasn’t as complete a game as Friday night, but just excited to get four points and move on,” Carvel said. “Proud of the team. They did what they had to do to pull off the sweep.”

And his biggest takeaway from the weekend?

“We started the weekend out of first place and we finished the weekend in first place and that’s all that matters.”

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