Kenny Connors a key player in win over UMass Lowell

The freshman scored the Minutemen’s two lone goals

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Colin McCarthy/ Daily Collegian (2022)

By Kayla Gregoire, Assistant Sports Editor

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — The Massachusetts hockey team needed a goal to get on the board and Kenny Connors was the one to come through.

Throughout the game both teams were evenly matched, with not one team having an upper hand. The River Hawks (8-6-0, 5-3-0 Hockey East) had the first shot of the game, but the Minutemen (7-5-1, 3-5-0 HEA) were the ones to show up on the board first with the help of Connors.

As Cole O’Hara quickly touched the puck as a Lowell player skated at him, the puck went in the wrong direction of his teammates. With a deflection off a River Hawks skate, the puck ended up on Connors stick. The freshman quickly took a shot from the slot for a 1-0 UMass lead. The goal marked the only point on the board through 40 minutes.

A period later, Connors had another shot to put the puck in the back of the net. Taylor Makar skated around two UML defenders with the puck on his stick. Makar shot the puck at the River hawks goaltender, but the puck was deflected off his pads. With a UML player not being quick enough to clear the puck out from in front of the goaltender, Connors saw his chance and shot the puck on a wrister past the goaltender.

“[Makar] makes a really good hard play to the back post,” Connors said “Kind of a fortunate bounce but it comes off the hard work of [Makar] and making plays like that.”

With the lines continually changing, Connors typically sees a new line mate in the games. On Friday, he was paired with Makar and O’Hara. O’Hara has been a consistent line mate for Connors, but Makar was a new face on the line. Connors credits both of his goals to the plays that his line mates made before he touched the puck.

Connors has been one of the most consistent freshman for the Minutemen throughout the season. Before the game, Connors was tied with captain Reed Lebster for most points on the UMass roster. Both stood at 13 points after Connors went three straight games without recording a point. Now with his two goals, the freshmen stands as the leader in points with 15 points.

“Pretty consistent,” Carvel said of Connors. “What we see from him is if he gets the puck in front of the net, he puts it in the back of the net. That’s what happened twice but he continues to be a really important part of the team, play him a lot and he can handle it.”

The freshman has also been someone to go to on the Minutemen’s first power play unit. Connors is the one to throw himself in front of the net on the power play and get into dirty areas. The unit has Lebster, Cal Kiefiuk, and Ryan Ufko leading it and Connors has become one of those guys for UMass.

“I kind of want to do my best to make it easier for [the power play unit], whether it’s being an option for them or taking the goalies eyes away so they can shoot without the goalie seeing the puck,” Connors said.

Connors took 24 face offs on Friday night and won 10 of them, going less than 50 percent at the dot. With the freshman continuing to grow into the pace of college hockey, he has shown inexperience, but Carvel’s trust has grown more with Connors.

“Personally, I want to keep working on my face offs,” Connors said. “I want to drive my numbers up a little bit. Just keep working at that so [Carvel] can put me in these situations so we can come up with the puck a lot more. It means a lot for [Carvel] to have trust in me but I want to make it easier for him to put me in those spots.”

Despite face offs being a weaker side of his game on Friday, the undefeated stat remained that Connors scored the only two goals of the game for UMass. Connors now has five goals and leads his class in both assists and points.

“For a freshmen [Connors] is pretty impressive,” Carvel said.

Kayla Gregoire can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Kaygregoire.