UMass’ establishment of a net presence guided it to a win

Minutemen started generating goals by crowding Zachary Borgiel

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Nina Walat/ Daily Collegian

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

After one period of offensive struggles against Merrimack on Saturday, the Massachusetts hockey team came out of the tunnel for the second frame reinvigorated. It began crowding the Warriors’ (3-5, 1-4 Hockey East) net leading to second chance goals.

No. 12 UMass (4-2, 2-0 HEA) coach Greg Carvel has long stressed the importance of establishing a net presence in the offensive zone, but that didn’t come right away on Saturday. The Minutemen finished the first 20 minutes with three shots on goal. They were still attempting shots at a normal rate, but any puck that didn’t make it to the net was cleared out by Merrimack defenders and UMass couldn’t collect many opportunities on rebounds or blocked shots.

Early in the first frame, Eric Faith blitzed down the ice and took the perfect shot on goal. It didn’t find the back of the net, but it did generate a dangerous rebound off the right pad of Warriors goaltender Zachary Borgiel.

Faith saw that he had Reed Lebster skating down the left side of the ice a few strides behind him. He took a shot that could be corralled by Lebster, who would have had a largely empty net to shoot on with Borgiel out of position after making the initial save. But Lebster couldn’t catch up to the puck in time and watched it sail past him into the boards.

In the second period a similar opportunity presented itself when Reed Lebster and Cal Kiefiuk dashed down the rink on a 2-on-1 breakaway. This time Lebster found the tape of Kiefiuk’s stick as he crashed hard towards the net and tapped the puck past Borgiel’s outstretched leg, giving the Minutemen a 3-2 lead.

Every goal UMass scored in the second period was created in front of the net. The Minutemen got their first goal on the scoresheet through overwhelming pressure around Borgiel on the power play. It was Garrett Wait who eventually took the loose puck and tucked it away. Wait scored again 12 minutes later by pitching a tent in front of Borgiel again and getting his stick in the right place at the right time to capitalize and net his second of the night.

“Those first two goals weren’t necessarily pretty,” captain Bobby Trivigno said. “We just put it at the net and banged them home.”

Playing hard towards the goal ended up being a deciding factor in UMass’ win. At times it struggled defensively and didn’t get as steady of a performance from Matt Murray in net as it did Friday. But when Merrimack tied the game 3-3 in the third, the Minutemen quickly found a response by taking advantage of another odd-man rush. The same way Lebster found Kiefiuk on the doorstep for his goal in the second period, Oliver MacDonald hit Matt Baker’s stick and the transfer tapped in the go-ahead goal.

“We scored around the net tonight which as coaches you like to see that,” Carvel said. “We started the game really poorly, no energy, we looked out of shape, and I thought it was going to be a long night. But it turned out to be a revealing night.”

UMass doesn’t get many slapshot goals or snipes from the point. Its offensive identity is built around physicality on the crease and capitalizing on second chances in traffic. In the first period when the Minutemen failed to do that, they struggled significantly. And their ability to start generating those chances later in the game allowed them to come away with a victory in the Mullins center and a series sweep of the Warriors.

“I’m not out here sniping goalies … I just do to the front of the net, whatever happens, happens,” Trivigno said.

Five goals happened.

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