Marinofsky: UMass makes statement, finds clarity in weekend sweep of Northeastern

UMass has outscored opponents 27-9 over its six-game win streak

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Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Evan Marinofsky, Assistant Sports Editor

Every team in sports has that one game or series you can look back to in a season that marks a serious turning point. Whether that team goes on to win a championship or fall out of postseason play, you can look back at it and think: “Yep, that’s when it all started.”

This weekend was that series for the Massachusetts hockey team.

No. 9 UMass (8-3-1, 8-3-1 Hockey East) took down No. 13 Northeastern (3-3-2, 3-3-2 HEA) twice. One was a gritty, come from behind 4-3 win over the Huskies on Friday night. Saturday saw UMass dominate for the first two periods and hold on for dear life in the third. The effort was good enough for a 5-3 win.

“That’s a big weekend for us to sweep Northeastern,” UMass head coach Greg Carvel said. “To win three games in a week, three games in four nights…that was a good job by the whole group.”

Before we dive into Friday and Saturday night’s wins, let’s turn the clock back a bit.

On Dec. 6, UMass had just fallen to lowly Merrimack, 3-2, in North Andover. UMass had yet to win a game on the road and at that point, they were 3-3.

Even though the Minutemen were playing a bunch of games while most of Hockey East was cancelling games due to COVID, it looked like the world was just getting extra looks at a mediocre hockey club struggling to find their identity.

Then came a weekend off.

It’s been four weeks since that loss at Merrimack and the Minutemen are winners of six straight. This past weekend saw them make their two biggest statements of the season. They’ve outscored opponents 27-9 over this stretch.

“Winning six games in a row, it’s tough to win that many games in a row, the competition is so strong,” Carvel said. “I think it’s just obviously going to build confidence in our group.”

Judging by the prior four games leading up to the two Northeastern wins, it’s been an incremental build to this turning point. There were two very convincing wins over Vermont. Then there was a blowout of UConn and then UNH. Slowly but surely, UMass began to establish itself.

For one, and as Carvel predicted, the scoring has come from all over the lineup. In Saturday’s game, Jerry Harding scored his first collegiate goal, finishing off a huge sequence for the Energizer bunny of a fourth line. Matthew Kessel scored on a penalty shot. Zac Jones found the back of the net from the blue line, Carson Gicewicz tipped one in for UMass’ fourth goal of the game and Garrett Wait added an empty-netter to round out the scoresheet. Friday night witnessed senior transfer Carson Gicewicz pot one, as well as Wait, Josh Lopina and Oliver Chau.

“We’re scoring goals,” Carvel said after Saturday’s win. “I don’t think we have a lot of skill on our front end. I think our back end is a real strength of our team. Jones and Kessel seem to score every game. We’re scoring by committee.”

One area in which Carvel hasn’t been too pleased with over the previous six games is the number of trips to the penalty box his squad has taken. That number: 32.

On the flip side, the penalty killing unit has stood up to the challenge. Of those 32 penalties, the Minutemen have successfully killed off 90 percent of them. Carvel dubbed the penalty kill “the most important” development of the six wins.

Aside from the penalty kill, the two wins over Northeastern also made the top six forwards more set in stone. Carvel and the coaching staff love Gicewicz next to Chau and captain Jake Gaudet. They’re also enjoying the contributions of Bobby Trivigno, Lopina and Wait when on the ice together.

“They’re going to stay as they are,” Carvel said of the top two lines.

Another area of the lineup the Minutemen are also going to stick with: Matt Murray in net. He’s backstopped all six of the wins while Filip Lindberg is on the shelf due to injury.

Carvel mentioned at the start of the season wanting one of Murray or Lindberg to take the net and run with it. Even though it’s due to an injury to Lindberg, it appears Murray is fulfilling his boss’s wishes.

“I imagine Matt’s going to play a good portion of the games the rest of the way,” Carvel said.

Carvel called Friday’s win over Northeastern “the next step”. It could be said that this entire six-game win streak has been that next step as well.

But this entire weekend signified a giant leap for the 2020-21 Minutemen. There was clarity – on good and bad – and there were two wins over one of their biggest Hockey East foes.

It’s clear this team is legit.

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