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 hockey defeats Northeastern on the road Saturday, 2-1

Nick VanTassell’s first collegiate goal sounds the Minuteman victory
Matt Skillings
Daily Collegian (2024)

BOSTON — The Massachusetts hockey team defeated Northeastern, 2-1, on Saturday afternoon in a heated defensive battle.

“It’s on [the] defensive core to bear down in the last three minutes there to cut out the win,” Nick VanTassell said.

The freshman forward sank in the game-winning goal for the Minutemen (13-6-3, 6-4-2 Hockey East).

With roughly three and a half minutes remaining in regulation, Dans Locmelis and VanTassell took advantage of the Huskies (7-12-2, 2-11-0 HEA) losing control over the puck. Locmelis retrieved the loose puck and quickly tapped it over to VanTassell. As he slid closer to Cameron Whitehead, VanTassell flung the puck up high above Whitehead to reach the back of the net.

“I feel like for a couple games I’ve been waiting for [my first goal],” VanTassell said. “As of recently, I’ve gotten more shots towards the second half of the year and finally one went through.”

The goal marked the freshman’s first goal of his collegiate career.

“[VanTassell has] a lot of potential,” head coach Greg Carvel said. “I’ve been waiting for him to break out [and] he’s starting to play like a power forward… He has, probably, one of the best shots on our team.”

Showcasing both defensive and special teams strength, the Minutemen killed off four penalties for 11 minutes, including one five-minute major penalty.

“The penalty kill, it’s really been a focus for us,” Carvel said. “Special teams was really solid, goaltending was solid.”

After shouldering a Huskie into the boards, Lucas Mercuri was sent to the box for a five-minute major in the third period. Even in the absence of a fifth player, UMass did not allow Northeastern to maintain control over the puck for the full power play.

Killing off the Huskies’ man-advantage, goaltender Michael Hrabal stood tall in net with solid defensemen in front of him. This included graduate defenseman Samuli Niinisaarii who returned to the line-up on Saturday. Putting up a wall to protect Hrabal, Niinisaarii took in a strong shot from Cam Lund and set up opportunities for the Minutemen to flip the puck around for a breakaway.

“We love having [Niinisaarii] back,” Carvel said. “Tonight was his 100th career college game… He’s such a comfort to have on the ice.”

With the Minutemen finding ways to put themselves back in control, junior forward Ryan Lautenbach continuously challenged Whitehead. Lautenbach opened up scoring for the Minuteman in the first period to set the tone of the game.

On a cross-checking penalty that put his linemate Mercuri in the box, UMass kept the Huskies at bay from the face-off. As the Minutemen continued to deflect and ice the puck away from Hrabal, sophomore forward Cole O’Hara found himself with a clear opportunity to flip the power play around.

As O’Hara took the puck against the right boards, Lautenbach sliced in diagonally on Northeastern goaltender Cameron Whitehead’s left side. With an opening above his shoulders, the junior forward took in O’Hara’s pass and put a clean, short-handed goal behind Whitehead.

“[O’Hara’s] taking opportunities when they come to him,” Lautenbach said. “The pucks, you know, they bounce and… good things happen.”

The junior-sophomore duo showed out again during the five-minute penalty kill. With O’Hara lined up almost identically to his first assist, Lautenbach handled the puck a second too long and gave Whitehead the chance to compose himself and block the junior’s shot. Lautenbach ended his night with five shots on goal.

“We just held onto pucks too long, we didn’t get rid of them quickly,” Carvel said. “If you want to score, you [have] to shoot quick.”

Even with numerous scoring chances, totaling 35 shots on goal for the afternoon, the Huskies did not let their momentum die down.

Northeastern dominated in the second period, upping its shots from three to 18 and continued this drive into the third. The Huskies also concluded their night with 35 shots on goal.

Hrabal, though, was unphased by pressure, only allowing one goal and ending his night with 34 saves.

With a little over three minutes until intermission, graduate forward Brett Edwards found a rebound opportunity. After blocking defenseman Pito Walton’s shot on his left, Edwards quickly got the puck on his stick from Dylan Hryckowian. With little time to compose himself, Hrabal was forced to dive to the right side of the net. Reacting just a moment short, Edward successfully poked the puck in and tied the score, 1-1.

The Minutemen stay on the road, heading back to Merrimack on Feb. 2. Puck drop in North Andover is set for 7 p.m. and the game can be watched on ESPN+.

“Early on, it was quiet and someone scream[ed] out ‘Go UMass,’” Carvel said. “They deserve it, they play hard, and they’re good kids… Tonight, very proud of the way they played.”

Sydney Ciano can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @SydneyCiano.

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