Lucas Mercuri’s first career goal a game-winner for UMass hockey against AIC

  • UMass’ Bobby Trivigno weaves through AIC defenders during the Minutemen’s 4-2 win Saturday night at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass’ Lucas Mercuri celebrates scoring the go-ahead goal in the third period of the Minutemen’s 4-2 win Saturday night at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass’ Cam Donaldson powers toward the AIC net during the Minutemen’s 4-2 win Saturday night at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/16/2021 11:09:26 PM

AMHERST – Lucas Mercuri took the final swing that broke the wall.

In a tie game with 2 minutes, 19 seconds left, Cal Kiefiuk retrieved the puck from behind AIC’s net and found Aaron Bohlinger with plenty of room in the center of the offensive zone. The Yellow Jackets scrambled to cover him, and Bohlinger passed to Mercuri for the one-timer that he slammed under the crossbar.

Mercuri, a freshman from Montreal, blasted what wound up as the game winner for his first career goal.

“It was obviously a really big moment,” Mercuri said. “It’s pretty easy when you play with good players.”

Matthew Kessel added an empty-netter two minutes later, as UMass defeated AIC 4-2 to seal a home-and-home sweep over its Pioneer Valley adversary Saturday.

The ninth-ranked Minutemen (2-2) lived in AIC’s zone at the Mullins Center. They put 43 shots on net compared to just 16 for the Yellow Jackets.

“It’s just one of those games you keep pounding the rock, keep doing little things right, and it paid off for us at the end,” UMass captain Bobby Trivigno said.

UMass led 2-1 after the first period, but AIC tied it 5:04 into the second in transition. Luka Maver carried the puck up the left side of the ice with one defenseman between him and Chris Theodore on the right. Once UMass committed to defend him, he slid the puck to Theodore, who blasted a one-timer home.

“The way we play the game is very aggressive. If you don’t have five guys doing it right and being hard, you’re going to give up a lot of odd-man rushes,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “So when you see odd-man rushes, that’s more about us.”

UMass sophomore Josh Lopina opened the scoring with his second goal in as many nights. After Bobby Trivigno worked the puck behind the net, his pass trickled through the AIC defense. Lopina dove and swatted it from the crease to the back of the net and celebrated from his back 14:44 in. Scott Morrow added an assist, too. It was Lopina’s second goal in as many games after scoring on the power play Friday.

“I love playing with [Lopina]. He’s the type of guy that I know if I give him the puck, he’s going to put it in the back of the net,” Trivigno said. “And I know he’s going to work as hard as he can to get pucks back on forechecks, whatever it is, he’s just a reallyy smart, well-rounded player that has developed a lot over the summer.”

UMass doubled its lead 2:03 later. Sophomore Ryan Sullivan tapped home his own rebound for his first career goal. Garrett Wait and Mercuri assisted on the play.

“I’ve got to find depth guys that I can rely on,” Carvel said. “There’s a pool of guys that I’m trying to figure out. We’ve got guys in and out of the lineup.”

AIC responded quickly on the next shift. Maver carried the puck out of his own zone and eluded UMass’ entire defense before beating Murray with a wrist shot that cut the lead to one goal with 1:58 left in the first. Evan Stella assisted the play.

“They had a 10-minute stretch where we couldn’t get out of our own way, and I thought we had a 50-minute stretch where we were just as good as them [Friday] night,” AIC coach Eric Lang said. “When we put that in perspective for our guys, I think that gave a little confidence.”

UMass ensured the rally ended there. The Minutemen only allowed 10 AIC shots after the first period and just two in the third.

“They make it hard. That’s the best forechecking team in the country. They challenge you to make plays all over the ice,” Lang said. “They play like every puck matters and they play like every shift could be their last.”

The Minutemen ended the weekend at .500 after they were swept in their opening series against Minnesota State two weeks ago. They don’t play another regular season game until Oct. 29 at Merrimack. UMass will host Dartmouth in an exhibition Oct. 23 and use the time in between to smooth out some of the issues the beginning of the season has exposed.

“The big picture thing is the group, they kept going. I didn’t feel frustration, I didn’t feel pity, sorry for ourselves we can’t score. They just kept going,” Carvel said. “I like the energy. When we have that you’ll usually find a way to score. We’ll clean up the mistakes. I think there’s enough character in the room, enough compete that you can fix those. We have to be a really good defensive team until our offense comes around.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.
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