Two third-period goals lead UMass to draw with AIC, Yellow Jackets win shootout

Josh Nodler and Reed Lebster score for the Minutemen

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Dylan Nguyen/Daily Collegian (2022)

By Sophie Weller, Assistant Sports Editor

SPRINGFIELD — As Josh Nodler skated to the center circle, prepared to take the opening face-off for the Massachusetts hockey team, it was clear that the 2022-23 season was here and the Minutemen (0-0-1) were ready to make their mark early. After the 60 minutes of regulation, the score remained locked at two and forced overtime.

After five minutes of three-on-three play, UMass was unable to score in the shootout, providing the Yellow Jackets (0-1-2) with the additional point.

“I wish we would have come out and played like we did the last 10 minutes,” head coach Greg Carvel said. “We finally found some desperation and we didn’t get pucks to the net for the first 50 minutes.”

After dominating in the opening minutes of the first period, it seemed the Minutemen were lost, still struggling to find a connection between the group of veteran players and newcomers. Whether it was losing track of the puck or being unable to complete simple passes, the steady efforts of Luke Pavicich in goal allowed the score to remain tied.

AIC struck first after Blake Bennett sent the puck past the hand of Pavicich, awarding the Yellow Jackets with the first goal of the game in the second period.

Adding a second goal to the mix, AIC’s Oscar Geschwind doubled his team’s score on the transition, with a feed from Dustin Manz. With under 13 minutes remaining in regulation, and continued motivation from a determined Yellow Jackets squad, UMass did have an answer.

Despite the defensive struggles, behind Pavicich, Ryan Ufko had the biggest impact on the ice for the Minutemen. After AIC’s Aaron Grounds charged with the puck handing off the end of his stick and a potential two-on-one opportunity in front of him, he saw a prime chance to double the Yellow Jackets’ lead. However, Ufko worked his way back, keeping track of the forward, while managing to get his stick on the end of the shot. His ability to redirect combined with Pavicich’s stance on the left side of the net prevented the goal.

Similarly, it was defenseman Elliott McDermott who an impact offensively for UMass, ending the contest with 7 shots on goal. He was followed by Scott Morrow with five, and Linden Alger and Nodler with three.

“You know [Morrow] is going to give us a lot of offense and Ufko’s going to give us a lot of offense, and the rest of them need to play defense,” Carvel said. “They need to defend first and provide offense second.”

“[Morrow] and [Ufko] are elite level of offensive-defenseman and the rest of them aren’t,” Carvel added.

One of UMass’ best opportunities to score came in the first period with the connection between Josh Nodler, Cal Kiefiuk, and Reed Lebster on full display. The Calgary Flames draft pick found Kiefiuk wide open in front of the net, but Kiefiuk was unable to lift the puck and didn’t get an accurate shot off.

Nodler’s impressive night continued, with the center netting the first goal of the season for the Minutemen, but this time was playing alongside Lucas Mercuri and Ryan Lautenbach. The two sophomores recorded the assists.

“He’s a good hockey player, he just needs to learn how to play out style,” Carvel said. “But he’s a goal scorer as you saw and that was a great shot he scored on, so he’s going to be a good player for us, but he’s got to go through the growing pain.”

Taking the ice at AIC for the first time in a UMass uniform, Nodler made a solid first impression.

“It was obviously really exciting,” Nodler said. “It was definitely exciting to put that jersey on for the first time in a game.”

Just over a minute later, Reed Lebster scored the tying goal for UMass, with Kiefiuk and Morrow earning the assist, marking an impressive comeback effort.

“The last 10 minutes did give me something to look forward to,” Carvel said. “We built up some shifts. We kept them in their zone for a while. Had a lot of good chances.”

 The Minutemen will look for redemption in their series against No. 1 Denver beginning Friday at 7 p.m. in the Mullins Center. UMass will take the ice the following night, with puck drop at 7:30 p.m.

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