UMass gets back on track with a 3-1 victory over Merrimack

The Minutemen closed the door on a Warrior comeback late in the third

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Chris Tucci/UMass Athletics

By Colin McCarthy, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts hockey team picked up a 3-1 victory over Merrimack on Saturday, its first win since opening night of the 2020 season.

The No. 8 Minutemen (2-2-1) and Warriors (0-1) engaged in a tightly contested battle for most of the game, even with Merrimack being short an entire line of forwards heading into the contest.

“We knew playing through [COVID-19] that certain nights teams were going to be at distinct disadvantages,” head coach Greg Carvel said after the game. “Just want to recognize that Merrimack was very short on their bench and they made it a heck of a game.”

In the first period, despite only six shots on goal, Merrimack had a few key opportunities to take the lead. But Matt Murray was able to deny two separate breakaway attempts to keep the game scoreless.

“Matt had to make some big saves, again we left him out to dry a couple times,” Carvel said of his goalie’s performance. “It’s tough, those games where you don’t see the puck for long stretches and then you have to make a high-end save. He did that for us a couple times.”

Coming out in the second period, the Minutemen defense began to tighten up, not allowing as many quality scoring chances from the Warriors in that frame.

Part of UMass’ success defensively came from assistant captain Marc Del Gaizo, who made his return to the lineup on Saturday after missing last weekend’s series against Boston College. He added assists on both of the Minutemen goals in addition to his stellar defensive play.

“His speed and his compete, and I know he had a bunch of shots on net on the power play,” Carvel said. “He’s a huge factor for us.”

And it was Josh Lopina who opened the game’s scoring, adding his third of the season on a power play opportunity.

Early in the third period, Eric Faith added another goal for UMass, lighting the lamp for the first time in his college career by deflecting in a shot from Colin Felix to put the Minutemen up by two.

Just under seven minutes later, Merrimack got its third breakaway chance of the evening, and this time Murray was unable to make the stop, bringing the Warriors back within one.

But without a fourth line, the worn-out Merrimack offense was unable to complete a comeback, as Bobby Trivigno put away an empty-net goal with under a minute to play to ice the game for UMass.

Although they only allowed one goal, the Minutemen defense did not play their best game this season, and there is still plenty of room for improvement on the back end.

“I thought in the defensive zone we were a little sloppy,” Carvel said. “It’s a weird game because you know you’re at an advantage. The other team is pretty gassed, it’s their first game, they’re shorthanded. And you start cheating the game a little bit and we saw that.”

One aspect that UMass has not been sloppy on to this point in the year is at the faceoff dot. The quartet of Jake Gaudet, Philip Lagunov, Lopina and Faith at center continues to win draws consistently for the Minutemen.

Lagunov in particular dominated the game, winning 13 of his 18 draws. And Lopina continued to take and win big faceoffs down the stretch, as he has for the past few games.

“It’s one thing that we haven’t really had. We’ve had a lot of good assets to our team over the last couple years, but consistently winning faceoffs is something that’s always nice to have,” Carvel said. “It’s allowed us to actually run faceoff plays and add a little bit to our game.”

UMass will be back in action for the second half of its weekend series against Merrimack at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.

“I think we were at an advantage being a little bit more game ready than they are,” Carvel said. “I think they’ll get some players back and it’ll be another hard game tomorrow night.”

Colin McCarthy can be reached at [email protected] and followed on twitter @colinmccarth_DC.