Defense showed moments of success and struggles in matchup against Merrimack

Scott Morrow recorded two goals and an assist in the win

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Nina Walat/ Daily Collegian

By Sophie Weller, Collegian Staff

The defensemen of the Massachusetts hockey team faced many challenges, forcing mistakes and gave Merrimack multiple offensive opportunities. However, the efforts of Scott Morrow in the offensive zone and Matthew Kessel on defense helped lead No. 10 UMass (10-4-2, 7-2-2 Hockey East) to victory on Monday night.

“We’ve been a good team because of our back end,” head coach Greg Carvel said. “[Over the break] I came to the realization that defense wasn’t helping us with the puck, but I thought tonight they did a good job.”

Miscommunications on defense allowed for multiple opportunities for Warriors (7-10-1, 3-7-0 HEA), with them capitalizing late in the first period. A hit to Ryan Lautenbach in the corner allowed Merrimack to move the puck forward. Logan Drevitch got control in the neutral zone, charging towards Colin Felix and Matt Murray in the back line. Despite being closest to Drevitch, Felix hesitated to step up, instead allowing Lucas Mercuri, who was working his way back on defense to attempt to block the shot but was unsuccessful. The first period ended with a 1-1 tie, with many of the mistakes made by the Minutemen apparent on the defensive end.

In the second period, Cal Kiefiuk and Mercuri were sent to the box, giving the Warriors a two-man advantage. Felix and Demin took the ice for the last seconds of the 5-on-3, but an odd-man rush error along with a mistake by Matt Murray allowed for Merrimack to tip the puck in, giving it a one goal lead heading into the third period.

Matthew Kessel has been a consistent force on the ice throughout this season, playing alongside Ryan Ufko on the first line. Despite his efforts not showing on the scoresheet, he helped lead the UMass over Merrimack. Kessel was named an assistant captain at the beginning of the season alongside fellow defensemen Felix, with Bobby Trivigno as captain.

“I really challenged [Kessel] over the break and I thought he was really good tonight,” Carvel said. “I think he should be one of the top defensemen in our league and he played like it tonight. He wasn’t really in the scoresheet, but he played a physical game. He was poised with the puck. I thought he was really good and recognized him as player of the game.”

Scott Morrow returned from the World Juniors and was on the third defensive pairing alongside Ty Farmer. Taking the puck all the way from the defensive zone, Morrow scored the first goal of the game for the Minutemen, with Lucas Mercuri recording the assist. With injuries having affected the team throughout November and December, Mercuri and Morrow were two of the younger members of the team who stepped up during that time.

Farmer continued to make his presence known throughout the game, earning an assist, and showcasing his speed to get the puck forward. With the injuries, Farmer slotted in as a forward for many games playing on the third and fourth lines, but with players returning, he went back to defense and had one of the best games of his career after making the switch back.

“[Morrow] continues to be a consistent goal scorer,” Carvel said. “[Farmer] played with [Morrow] tonight, which is not always easy to do, because [Morrow] is a little unpredictable, which is a good thing offensively, but when you are his partner, you got to play a certain way.”

Morrow continued his success with a goal in the third period, tying it up at three. Lautenbach sent the puck to Morrow on a breakout who took a one timer shot and found the back of the net. On the goal credited to Lautenbach with less than six minutes remaining the game, Morrow earned the assist, adding to his success this game.

UMass will travel and take on No. 6 Michigan on Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m.

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