UMass hockey makes a statement, beats Denver 4-2 in Amherst

Luke Pavicich makes 45 saves in the win

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Kira Johnson/ Daily Collegian (2022)

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

Massachusetts hockey coach Greg Carvel wanted to be the underdog, and heading into its home opener against Denver, No. 13 UMass (1-0-1) was thought to be just that: the underdogs.

The Minutemen didn’t look like underdogs by the end of the first period though, jumping out to a 3-0 lead over the No. 1 Pioneers (2-1) before eventually winning 4-2 in front of their home crowd.

“It was a highly unusual game, but in my time at UMass it seems like every time we play that team it’s not a usual game,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said after the game. “Unbelievable response by our guys.”

UMass moved the puck fluently through the neutral zone, allowing for fast breakouts that caught Denver off-guard, particularly in the first period. All three of the Minutemen’s goals in that frame came in transition. UMass either created an odd man rush with a quick breakout or slashed into the offensive zone and crashed the net hunting for rebounds. That recipe helped the Minutemen earn a quick lead, in large part to their new players.

Two freshmen scored their first career goals on Friday: Tyson Dyck and Kenny Connors. After the first game of the season where the freshmen struggled on the ice, the young forward line pulled a complete 180 and contributed to the scoring in a major way.

Connors earned his first of the year on an odd man rush to kickstart the offensive onslaught in the first period. Dyck didn’t waste much time before adding his name to the stat sheet. He also scored in transition, scooping up a rebound in front of the Pioneers’ net and firing it into the top shelf.

Carvel had so much faith in his line of freshmen that he kept putting them on the ice late in the game, even while the Pioneers’ goalie was pulled.

“They’re going to score a lot of goals here, they’re really good players,” Carvel said of the freshman duo. “[Connors] is a pro prospect, [Dyck] is a young kid, he’s a true freshman. He’s the youngest kid on the team and he’s a talented player.”

Luke Pavicich earned another start in net on Friday and continued his dominance between the pipes for the Minutemen. The sophomore made 45 saves against a high powered Pioneers offense and stood on his head at times to keep the puck out of the net.

There were multiple occasions that Denver earned a clean look directly in front of UMass’ net, and Pavicich turned those chances away with relative ease, earning a crescendo of cheers from the crowd after each one.

“Our goaltending was outstanding,” Carvel said. “What a statement made by [Pavicich]. His third career game and he puts up 45 saves and was outstanding. We needed him to be.”

A handful of times throughout the game, Pavicich made a key stop but wound up out of position to stop any follow up attempts. During those spots though, Minutemen defenders and even a few forwards had the goaltenders back. Ryan Ufko and Matt Koopman seemed to gravitate toward those loose pucks and knock them into the corner to help Pavicich reset.

Special teams slanted towards UMass for the full 60 minutes on Friday as well. UMass scored a pair of shorthanded goals in the first period after Cal Kiefiuk took a game misconduct penalty. In the second frame, Reed Lebster lit his first lamp of the season by scoring a power play goal near the top of the circle.

The Minutemen ended the game 1-1 on the power play and 3-4 on the penalty kill. The only penalty kill they gave up came from a 6-on-4 in the third period after Denver pulled its goalie.

Aaron Bohlinger and Noah Ellis both made their season debuts in the backend, replacing the freshman duo of Kennedy O’Connor and Owen Murray. Bohlinger slid into the second pairing alongside Ryan Ufko, while Ellis teamed up with Linden Alger. The Minutemen’s defense showed major improvements from their first game against AIC to Friday’s matchup with Denver, and the lineup additions played a significant role in that.

“[Bohlinger] is our most experienced defenseman on the team as a junior, he’s got more games than anybody else,” Carvel said. “[Ellis] is a draft pick, he’s a big kid … we needed that experience and size tonight, and Bohlinger in his first game back I thought was great.”

The UMass defense also added scoring of its own, as has been the case for a few years under Carvel. Scott Morrow scored a shorthanded goal after getting up into the rush and taking a pass from Ryan Lautenbach. It was another case of defense turning into offense, and it also gave the Minutemen even more momentum early in the first period.

UMass turned a lot of heads in the college hockey world on Friday night with its dominant win over the defending national champions. Now it looks to continue that momentum into Saturday night’s rematch with Denver. Puck drop is set for 7:30 in the Mullins Center.

“Against a team with their skill it’s really important that we try to play less in our end,” Scott Morrow said of his takeaways heading into tomorrow. “And hopefully [Pavicich] shows up again tomorrow night and stands on his head again the way he did tonight.”

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