Reed Lebster puts offensive capability on display against Minnesota

Junior tallies two goals in the loss on Friday

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Dylan Nguyen/ Daily Collegian

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

WORCESTER — Massachusetts hockey coach Greg Carvel looked for scoring depth all season long needed someone to answer the call on Friday night against a deep Minnesota lineup.

Reed Lebster did just that, and even though his big night didn’t lead to a UMass (22-13-2, 14-8-2 Hockey East) win, he capped off his season with a strong effort and did everything in his power to help the Minutemen advance.

The junior second line forward scored a pair of goals in the first 25 minutes of the game, giving UMass enough momentum to control the pace for most of the game.  The Minutemen are difficult to stop when commanding a lead, but the No. 2 seeded Gophers (24-13-0, 18-6 Big Ten) were resilient enough to fight through that pressure.

“He’s been practicing and playing really well lately,” Carvel said after the game. “We always have a player of the day in practice and we gave it to him yesterday, he was scoring left and right

Both of Lebster’s scores provided the Minutemen with energy boosts when they needed them most. In the opening frame of the contest, UMass and Minnesota were both playing tight defense, not allowing many dangerous chances for either team’s offense to capitalize on.

When the Gophers took a delayed penalty, Matt Murray raced to the bench to get an extra skater on for the Minutemen. During that 6-on-5 opportunity, Lebster found an opening in the zone and took advantage of a screen by Anthony Del Gaizo to score his first goal of the night.

“When he gets hot he finds ways [to score], he’s got a good stick,” Carvel said. “Not that it took a lot of skill to put that in the net.”

UMass came into Friday night with a record of 18-2-2 when scoring the first goal of the game, so Lebster’s ability to generate that much-needed tally gave the Minutemen breathing room and a chance to protect their lead the way they did so well during the regular season and HEA playoffs.

Lebster’s second goal was equally important, not only for another momentum shift but also to help UMass get its confidence back.

Towards the end of the first period, it looked like the Minutemen would ride a 2-0 lead into the locker room. That changed when Minnesota entered the offensive zone and sent a tame shot towards Matt Murray. The UMass goaltender seemingly blocked the puck out of harm’s way with his pad, but it took a bounce off Colin Felix’s leg and redirected back into the net. Instead of taking a comfortable lead into the first intermission, the Minutemen walked through the tunnel with some disappointment.

Lebster didn’t let that feeling last long. On his first shift of the second period, he fought for the puck directly in front of Gophers goaltender Justen Close and found a way to poke it just passed the right pad of the netminder to light the lamp a second time.

Before the NCAA Tournament, the Minutemen saw very little offensive production from their forward group outside of the top line. Bobby Trivigno, Garrett Wait and Josh Lopina drove nearly every ounce of offensive momentum UMass could muster, and if that line wasn’t scoring, more often than not it was defensemen finding their way to the score sheet.

The second trio of Cal Kiefiuk, Del Gaizo and Lebster gave some offense, but wasn’t the consistent force that Carvel hoped it would be during the season. When They needed to rise to the occasion though, Lebster and the entire line delivered.

“Our top two lines — if they’re both playing well, which they were — it gives us a good chance [to win],” Carvel said. “I never thought the game was out of our control.”

UMass didn’t get the result it wanted, but it did get a gutsy effort from its whole group, and especially from Reed Lebster.

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