New defensive lines shined from UMass in win over AIC

Matt Murray recorded 24 saves on Friday

Nina+Walat%2F+Daily+Collegian

Nina Walat/ Daily Collegian

By Sophie Weller, Collegian Staff

SPRINGFIELD – Defense proved key for the Massachusetts hockey team in its dominant win against American International College on Friday night.

In its opening weekend, UMass’ (1-2) first line included Matthew Kessel and Slava Demin on defense, but this week Ryan Ufko was moved up to play alongside Kessel. Demin and Colin Felix made up the second line, with Scott Morrow and Ty Farmer on the third.

Still experimenting with the pairs on defense, Kessel and Morrow saw time together on power plays to better suit UMass’ strengths. Throughout the night, Bohlinger, who was in the lineup as the extra defender while he returns from surgery, saw time with Felix.

“We’re trying to find the right combination,” head coach Greg Carvel said. “I thought Ufko was excellent. I think him and Kessel are our two best defensemen … I didn’t know that until tonight, but I thought they were excellent.”

Ufko’s play style is similar to Kessel’s former line mate Zac Jones, and the new pair meshed well together, with the freshman ending the night with one assist. Ufko also attempted three shots and one on goal.

Matt Murray and the defense had to step up in the second period after Reed Lebster received a five-minute major for charging the goalie and was ejected from the game. It was because of the efforts and composure by Murray that the Yellow Jackets were unable to find the back of the net. The period ended with AIC (0-2) outshooting UMass 13-6, but it was the Minutemen who came away with the goal.

“Started out a little slow, and then they started getting power plays and it picked up,” Murray said when asked about his performance. “I thought it was a good game by our guys in front, limiting shots to the outside and there wasn’t a whole lot of opportunity in the net front. The one that went in, tough one, but a win’s a win.”

Julius Janhonen took a shot that snuck past the hands of Murray and gave AIC the goal they had been searching for all night in the third period. The remainder of time saw high pressure and high intensity from both teams, but UMass was able to hold them off and prevent any other goals

Despite the offensive dominance in the first period which saw the Minutemen scoring four goals, Murray recorded seven saves with many of the big ones coming after Taylor Makar was sent off the ice for delay of game. During those two minutes, AIC’s Justin Cole got past the defenders and was on a breakaway, but his shot deflected off Murray and went to the boards where UMass was able to collect the puck to get it back under control.

Farmer recorded his first goal of the season 7:03 minutes into the second period after his shot bounced off a Yellow Jackets defender in front of the net and found its way into the back of the net.

After two weeks to work through the challenges presented against Minnesota State, the change was visible. The Minutemen defensive unit allowed the Mavericks to score six unanswered goals in their loss on Oct. 3, but this game saw far more blocked shots and stops.

“I don’t think we gave up many scoring chances,” Carvel said. “I thought defensive effort was better…I thought we improved a lot over the last two weeks, but we’re still a long way from where we need to be.”

UMass will return to the Mullins Center and finish the series against AIC Saturday with a 7 p.m. puck drop.

Sophie Weller can be reached at [email protected] and followed on twitter @SophieeWellerr.