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UMass hockey finishes strong to down Merrimack

  • UMass player Niko Rufo, left, moves the puck against Merrimack, flanked by Austin Plevy, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at the Mullins Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ivan Chukarov, of UMass, shoots against Merrimack, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at the Mullins Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • John Leonard, of UMass, left, scores against Merrimack in he first period, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at the Mullins Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Niko Rufo, of UMass, celebrates his goal in the first period against Merrimack, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at the Mullins Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • John Leonard, right, of UMass, celebrates his goal in the first period against Merrimack goalie Drew Vogler, front, with Austin Albrecht, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at the Mullins Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass player Josh Couturier, center, moves the puck against Merrimack, flanked by Austin Plevy, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at the Mullins Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • UMass goalie Matt Murray blocks a shot as teammate Jake McLaughlin handles Logan Coomes, of Merrimack, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at the Mullins Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jake McLaughlin, left, of UMass, eyes Aaron Titcomb, of Merrimack, before passing against him, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at the Mullins Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Brett Boeing, right, of UMass, passes as he approaches Merrimack goalie Drew Volger, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at the Mullins Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mitchell Chaffee, right, of UMass, moves the puck against Aaron Titcomb, of Merrimack, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at the Mullins Center. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jake Gaudet, center, of UMass, lines up a shot against Merrimack goalie Drew Volger in the second period, Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018 at the Mullins Center. Volger blocked the shot. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



@MattVautourDHG
Tuesday, February 06, 2018

AMHERST — When Merrimack scored with 30.6 seconds left in the second period, it looked like the Warriors, while down a goal, had momentum in the battle between two teams badly in need of a victory.

But UMass came out of the intermission aggressive and angry and seized back control. The Minutemen scored twice in the first minute of the third period igniting them to a 5-2 win Tuesday at the Mullins Center.

“I thought that was a real sold 60 minutes by our guys tonight,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “For us to score five goals is much needed.”

Johnny Leonard, whose defensive lapse contributed to Merrimack’s second period goal, atoned for the mistake quickly. He corralled the puck in the neutral zone, and his momentum easily put him behind the Merrimack defense on a breakaway. He beat goalie Drew Vogler low 26 seconds into the period to make it 3-1.

Just 28 seconds later, Jake Horton made it 4-1 off the faceoff, and UMass was never truly threatened again, as the teams traded goals to create the final margin.

“I knew I owed the team one. It was kind of my fault the one they scored at the end of the second,” Leonard said. “I tried to make up for it as best I could whether it was making a big defensive play or getting a lucky bounce on the break away.”

Carvel said, offensively, Leonard looked like he did before an early season injury slowed his strong start.

“When he scores, it looks easy. It’s not easy to score,” Carvel said. “He’s really impressive with the puck. We’re trying to make him a more complete player. But he’s growing. With the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, he’s really an elite player. You’re seeing that spark again.”

The win snapped a six-game losing streak for UMass (12-16-1, 6-12-1 Hockey East) and leapfrogged it over Merrimack (8-17-4, 5-13-2) into 10th place in Hockey East.

“Our team played a full 60 minutes tonight. That’s what was important after a handful of losses,” Horton said.

Getting the first goal has been critical to UMass success this season, and Leonard broke the ice with 7:45 left in the first period. He collected the puck just inside the blue line near the left point, stepped around two defenders, giving him a clear look. He picked his spot, wristing the puck past Drew Vogler’s late glove inside the far post to make it 1-0.

Niko Rufo doubled UMass’ lead on the power play with 4:10 left. Attacking the net though the slot, he arrived in perfect time to redirect Philip Lagunov’s centering pass behind Vogler to make it 2-0.

Merrimack got on the board and grabbed some momentum with the only goal of the second period with 30.6 seconds left. Breaking in down the right wing boards, Ludvig Larsson snapped a shot past Matt Murray (31 saves) to make it 2-1.

UMass is at Boston University, Friday at 7:30 p.m.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage