Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass wins thriller in Cambridge, defeats Harvard 6-5

Kenny Connors scores game winner to complete the Minuteman comeback
Dylan Nguyen
Daily Collegian (2023)

CAMBRIDGE  — The No. 11 Massachusetts hockey team battled back from three separate deficits against Harvard on Friday night to escape Cambridge with a 6-5 victory. Kenny Connors scored the game winning goal 7:38 into the third period to put the exclamation point on a thrilling game for the Minutemen (9-3-1, 4-2-1 Hockey East).

The Minutemen were cycling the offensive zone when Samuli Niinisaari found himself with the puck at the point. Niinisaari sent a slap-pass towards Cole O’Hara who shielded the puck nicely against a Harvard defender in front of the net. Kenny Connors sped in through two defenders and made himself open for a pass. O’Hara craftily spun and passed the puck to Connors who put the puck on net and cleaned up his own rebound to complete UMass’ comeback.

“Going into the third we were down 5-4 but we were playing pretty good hockey, so it didn’t take much to convince the guys that they could find a way,” head coach Greg Carvel said.

Lucas Mercuri tied the game at five with his fourth goal of the season just three minutes earlier.

On the tail end of a power play that was being effectively killed off by the Crimson (1-1-4, 1-1-3 ECAC), the Minutemen got themselves comfortably set up in the offensive zone. Niinisaari scanned the zone to look for open maroon sweaters and found Connors at the bottom of the left faceoff dot. Connors quickly found Mercuri standing at the back door where he made a clean pass through the crease to the center who one-timed the puck in the open net.

“It was awesome; Kenny made a really nice play,” Mercuri said. “Found some soft ice and Kenny had his head up and made an awesome play to me and I just had to put it in the open net, so it was an awesome play from my teammates.”

Mercuri celebrated as a resounding cheer came from the UMass faithful who invaded Bright-Landry Hockey Center to cheer on their team. The entire UMass side of the bleachers was full of Minutemen supporters.

“It was unbelievable,” Mercuri said. “Shoutout to all the UMass fans, it was amazing, it was like a home game. They were cheering us on during the starting lineups, it was great. We’ve got a lot of alumni, a lot of people that are supporting us right now, really grateful for them.”

“I just wanted to acknowledge it a little bit; you could feel it throughout the game,” Carvel said. “If we were in here and this was 4,000 fans against us, it may not have been as easy to overcome the deficit. It felt like a home game.”

The game didn’t get off to a hot start for the Minutemen, as they found themselves behind the eight-ball early on with a 2-0 deficit less than five minutes into the game. Ryan Fine and Ryan Healey scored within two minutes of each other to get the Crimson off to an ideal start.

UMass got itself back in the game with less than a minute left in the first when Jack Musa scored his fifth of the season to cut the deficit to one going into the locker room.

Scott Morrow scored his fourth of the season a minute and a half into the second period to tie the game for UMass. At that point, with the Minutemen dominating in shots and offensive zone time, it felt like the game would swing in favor of the away team.

Harvard didn’t let UMass settle into the flow of the period however, as Healey scored his second of the night just two minutes later.

“Every time we cheated the game or didn’t do what we’re supposed to do, they took advantage of us,” Carvel said.

Linden Alger answered back with a punch to tie the game up once again at three just 23 seconds later.

The Crimson jumped back out to a 5-3 lead, but UMass never quit. Lucas Vanroboys cut the deficit to 5-4 before the second period ended and the third period was all UMass.

“We never have a doubt in our locker room whether we’re going to play UMass hockey and come back,” Mercuri said. “We’re a resilient group, we’ve come back in the third period a couple of times now so there was never a doubt in our locker room that if we just kept playing hard, putting pucks on net, we knew we’d capitalize eventually.”

UMass outshot Harvard 49-22, as Crimson goaltender Aku Koskenvuo stood on his head for a majority of the game to keep his team in it.

Michael Hrabal was pulled for Cole Brady after allowing the fifth goal. Brady pitched a shutout in his time in net, making seven saves.

UMass will have a week to recollect itself after a thriller of a game on Friday. The Minutemen will take on Vermont Friday, Dec. 1 on the road with puck drop at 7 p.m.

“Just really proud of our guys, they never stopped,” Carvel said. “Don’t have to convince these guys anymore, they know what they’re capable of.”

Matt Skillings can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @matt_skillings.

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