Homecoming off to a good start for Amherst native, UMass freshman Johnny Leonard

  • UMass freshman Johnny Leonard, an Amherst native, will play his first regular season home game for the Minutemen Saturday. THOMAS KENDALL PHOTOGRAPHY FOR UMASS ATHLETICS

Thursday, October 12, 2017

AMHERST — The goal will be the most memorable thing to come from Saturday’s win at Arizona State for UMass freshman Johnny Leonard. It was the first of his career and the game-winning goal in the first win of the season for the Minutemen.

But for UMass coach Greg Carvel, it wasn’t all that stood out about the Amherst native’s second collegiate game.

“He laid a lot of body checks on Saturday night that were really energy builders for our team,” Carvel said. “Johnny Leonard, is really starting to emerge. I thought he was really good.”

Listed at 5-foot-11 190 pounds, Leonard doesn’t look like a prototypical power forward. But his strength and skating power make up for his lack of sheer mass.

“He can be a power forward who scores. He’s a powerful skater,” Carvel said. “We talked a lot about what he should be shooting for as a player. He’s always just been a goal scorer. He’s strong. He’s figuring out how to be hard to play against. The checking area is still the biggest area he can grow. He’s still learning check within our system.

“I think he’s a top two-line forward that’s powerful and finds the back of the net quite a bit,” Carvel continued. “That was a concern, how quickly he could grasp checking. But he’s a guy that’s finding his comfort zone. It’s fun to see.”

Leonard said it’s an adjustment, but one he’s taking on eagerly.

“I have to be hard in every aspect, every part of my game. It’s something I want to improve on. I’ve made some jumps early on in the year, but I’d like to continue to make jumps and be strong on the puck and use my body to my advantage,” he said. “It’s going to make me a lot better player in the long run, so it’s something I’m focused on. Playing physical builds momentum for the team and creates a lot of energy on the bench. A big hit always helps.”

After playing at Union at 7 p.m. Friday, he’ll put his new style on display in front of the Mullins Center crowd for the first time in a regular season game when UMass hosts AIC, Saturday at 7 p.m. It’s a crowd he used to be part of. Leonard, whose father John was an assistant men’s basketball coach under Steve Lappas, grew up in Amherst and regularly attended UMass hockey games with his friends.

“I went to all of them growing up,” said Leonard, who was a fan of James Marcou, then an All-American forward, now a graduate assistant on Carvel’s staff. “We sat behind the nets for a lot of them when we were younger.”

Leonard played two seasons at Cathedral and led all Massachusetts high school players with 47 goals and 28 assists in 2014-15. He then moved on to junior hockey with the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL where he had 24 goals and 19 assists in 110 games over two seasons.

His Amherst re-entry has been positive.

“It was a little weird at first getting used to it, but it feels good to be home,” said Leonard, who lives on campus. “I have a lot of friends in the area, and family. It’s nice to be close.”

WEEKEND PREVIEW– Union is 0-3 with losses to Boston University (4-1), Michigan Tech (6-3) and Minnesota (2-0). The Dutchmen were ranked No. 16 in USCHO.com’s preseason top 20. The fact that their still receiving votes despite their three losses is a testament to their schedule difficulty so far.

AIC is 0-2-1. The Yellow Jackets were swept by Army last weekend and tied Bentley, 3-3, Tuesday.

Carvel anticipated giving each of his goalies — sophomore Ryan Wischow and freshman Matt Murray — a start in one of the games this weekend.

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