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

Samuli Niinisaari’s two-way play shines in UMass’ win over New Hampshire

The graduate student comes up with two goals
Jonathan Shi
Daily Collegian (2023)

After coming back from an injury, Samuli Niinisaari has been playing his best hockey for the Massachusetts hockey team lately, and it was on full display in its 3-2 win over New Hampshire on Friday night.

With eight minutes left in the first period, the graduate student opened up the scoring for UMass (17-9-3, 10-7-2 Hockey East), giving it the momentum right out of the gate. Lucas Mercuri tapped the puck to Ryan Lautenbach who stick handled before sending a cross ice pass to Niinisaari. From his knee, he shot a one-timer past Wildcats (16-12-1, 9-9-1 HEA) goaltender Jakob Hellsten for a 1-0 UMass lead.

‘I saw the weak side was kind of open there and then [Lautenbach] just gave me a really good pass,” Niinisaari said. “I just kind of closed my eyes and shot it towards the net and hoped it goes in but yeah, it was a really good pass from [Lautenbach] so you hope you score after that.”

Throughout the night, Niinisaari looked like the best player on the ice for the Minutemen. He has been paired with junior Scott Morrow since the start of the season. Together they have made a strong pairing with Morrow adding offense and Niinisaari adding a defensive edge. On Friday, though, Morrow had a quiet game, adding a two minute penalty in the second period.

With Morrow as a top defender for UMass, Niinisaari stepped up both offensively and defensively on Friday with a quiet Morrow. He had two blocked shots that helped keep pressure off freshman goaltender Michael Hrabal. With Hrabal making 30 saves throughout the night, the graduate student was a large presence.

Morrow and Niinisaari have been a strong pairing both on and off the ice which has helped them be a top pairing with the Minutemen.

“We live together, we have a chemistry that was kind of instant at the beginning of the year,” Morrow said after a win against Merrimack earlier in the month. “It’s tough playing with different D partners sometimes, it feels like when I’m with him everything is natural out there. What I love the most about him is he’s the most competitive guy on the ice and it just oozes out of him. He’s just blocking shots and wins almost every battle. When you’re playing with a guy like that it’s hard not to be fired up.”

To end his night, Niinisaari scored an empty net goal off a pass from Dans Locmelis to extend UMass’ lead to 3-1. The empty netter ended up being the game winning goal after the Wildcats scored with two seconds left in the game. He had three shots, second behind Aydar Suniev’s four shots.

“[Niinisaari] looked really good on both sides of the puck,” head coach Greg Carvel said. “He didn’t get a bunch of shots, it felt like he had a bunch of shots [on Friday]. I’m happy for him, he played big for us tonight, we needed that. He was our best player tonight.”

The last time Niinisaari had scored was in the first game of the season on Oct. 7 against American International College. Since the first game, the defenseman has shown glimpses of offense each night. He has had eight assists and has shown his vision in games but hasn’t been able to come with goals.

While Niinisaari had a notably large presence on the ice tonight, he has been a large contributor for the Minutemen since coming back from injury on Jan. 20 against Northeastern. In that time, he has totaled six points in seven games of his 11 points throughout the whole season.

Niinisaari and UMass will play UNH again for the second game of the series on Saturday, Feb. 24 at the Whittemore Center. Puck drop is set for 7:00 p.m. as the Minutemen look for a sweep.

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

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