UMass beats UConn 5-1 on Opening Night

The Minutemen exploded for three goals in third period to win

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UMass Athletics/Chris Tucci

By Evan Marinofsky, Assistant Sports Editor

The Massachusetts hockey team opened its season Friday with the lowest opening night attendance in school history. No fans, no noise and fortunately for Connecticut goalie Tomas Vomacka, no chants from the student section.

But that didn’t stop UMass (1-0, 1-0 Hockey East) from establishing home-ice advantage, as it rolled over UConn (0-1, 0-1 HEA), 5-1, in the first of a two-game series.

“Very happy with the way our team performed tonight,” UMass head coach Greg Carvel said after the win. “Thought we were really solid throughout 60 minutes. Really never felt like the momentum was shifted against us.”

The Minutemen came out of the gate flying, aided by two UConn penalties, leading to a 5-on-3 just four minutes into the game. Because of that two-man advantage, UMass put up 14 shots in just the first five minutes alone.

Even with all of the shots, the one that mattered most came off the stick of Cal Kiefiuk just a bit over five minutes into the first when he snuck one past Vomacka to give the Minutemen the early 1-0 lead. Josh Lopina and Aaron Bohlinger – both freshmen – added the helpers on the opening goal for their first collegiate points.

“I think we’re a really good 5-on-5 team,” Carvel said. “We need our special teams to get to another level that we weren’t at last year and tonight was a big first step for me.”

The Huskies countered later in the period when Kale Howarth beat Matt Murray after Jonny Evans faked out the UMass goalie to make it 1-1.

With the score all tied up entering the second period, UMass once again came out flying to begin the middle 20 minutes. That culminated in Oliver Chau making the play of the game.

After receiving the puck from the point, Chau pretended to go around the net, but stopped and brought the puck to his backhand. As No. 20 did this, the four UConn defenders in the area froze and watched as Chau held onto the puck, looking for the perfect chance to dish one into the slot.

That’s when junior transfer Garrett Wait entered in behind the defense and slammed one past Vomacka to put the Minutemen ahead, 2-1. It was the eventual game winner.

Through 40 minutes, it was a fairly tight, back-and-forth affair between UMass and UConn – a classic Hockey East game to open the season.

But then the third period happened and the Minutemen broke things wide open with an assortment of scoring from all over the lineup.

First it was freshman Oliver MacDonald slipping his first collegiate goal past Vomacka off a cross-zone pass from Colin Felix to make it 3-1 UMass.

With roughly three minutes to play in regulation, both teams found themselves in the box and the Minutemen went to work at 4-on-4. Zac Jones made a tremendous effort to keep the puck in the UConn end, leading Bobby Trivigno to get a huge scoring chance from a high-danger spot.

Jones followed the play, the rebound popped loose and the highly-rated New York Rangers draft pick potted one past the outstretched UConn goalie to add some insurance and make it 4-1.

Oliver Chau followed that up with a goal of his own on the power play off a wrist shot from the point to make it 5-1.

Carvel mentioned this past week that with John Leonard and Mitchell Chaffee gone, the scoring would have to be by committee. The entire lineup would need to pitch in to help fill the massive holes left by the two offensive dynamos.

Friday night’s win proved to be the perfect example of what he was talking about.

“I felt like it was going to happen tonight,” Carvel said of the abundant scoring. “I just thought you could feel it on the bench. There was a confidence that we were going to find a way and then in the third period we just kind of took over.”

In the UMass defensive zone, Murray was far from busy, but still put up a solid 21-save win. His best save of the night came when UConn had a 5-on-3 of their own midway through the first period. Evans corralled the puck between the tops of the circle and fired one high glove on Murray.

It was a shot destined for the top corner, but Murray denied him with a flashy glove save.

“It’s been really enjoyable watching Matt mature as a goalie,” Carvel said of his goaltender. “His fourth year now, he’s very professional, very methodical and he looks very calm in the net. As a coach, I always like goaltenders that are either calm or really confident and Matt falls into the very calm, lets the game come to him.

“I thought he looked really under control.”

Both UMass and UConn found out they’d be playing each other on Friday and Saturday night late Wednesday afternoon.

Nevertheless, UMass prepared well enough to feel confident entering Friday night’s opener.

“We usually don’t introduce the pre-scout of the opponent until Thursday, sometimes we’ll do it on Wednesday,” Carvel said of preparing for UConn on short notice. “We played them late in the season last year and coaches don’t change a lot from year to year, so it allowed us to prepare. At the same time, we made it about us more than we did our opponent. We just wanted to make sure we were doing the things we wanted to do well.”

Prior to March of this year, that would be unheard of. But this is now life in a pandemic.

And even with the odd circumstances, UMass pulled away and starts the season 1-0.

They’ll look to sweep UConn Saturday with the game slated to start at 4 p.m.

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