Goalie Matt Murray looks to take ownership of net for UMass

  • UMass goalie Matt Murray is shown in net against Merrimack, Saturday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/11/2020 3:07:56 PM
Modified: 12/11/2020 3:07:44 PM

Matt Murray started both games of the UMass ice hockey team’s split with Merrimack. It was the first time in nearly a year a goaltender played both matchups in a series for the Minutemen. Murray backstopped the Minutemen to back-to-back wins over Maine on Dec. 6 and 7, 2019.

Over the past three seasons, UMass coach Greg Carvel and associate head coach Jared DeMichiel have alternated between two NHL prospects: Murray and junior Filip Lindberg. The Minnesota Wild selected Lindberg in the seventh round of the 2019 draft, while Murray attended the Pittsburgh Penguins’ prospect development camp last year.

Carvel told the pair over the summer that he wanted one of them to stand out and be the No. 1 goalie.

There hasn’t been much separation during their two years together. They hold the top two spots in program history in career goals against average. Lindberg is No. 1 at 1.86, while Murray ranks second at 2.25. Murray has the most shutouts in team history with eight. Lindberg leads all UMass goalies in save percentage (.927), while Murray is third (.915).

“I would love for one of them to take a big step forward. That’s nothing against the other kid, but that’s what you do,” Carvel said. “You get what you deserve, and I want to see one of them deserve to play every game because if they do that means they’re playing outstanding hockey and that’ll help us win games.”

Murray has made his case to be the top option through three weeks. He has a better goals against average (2.27 vs. 3.45) and save percentage (.903 vs. .881). The senior has been in net for both of UMass’ wins. Murray stopped 16 shots against Merrimack on Saturday at the Mullins Center, and the way he played inspired DeMichiel to give him Sunday’s return game in North Andover.

“(DeMichiel) felt that (Murray) played particularly well (Saturday) night and that he deserved to give him the net again to see if he could carry it,” Carvel said. “I think we owe that to the goalies after two years.”

Murray recognizes the importance of the responsibility of being the top choice and knows it’s not a guarantee.

“It shows hard work paying off. With the battle that Fili and I have going on the past few years now, it’s been pretty back and forth. Whenever I get the opportunity to play two in a row it means a lot, and it’s a big statement game,” he said. “You gotta work extra hard because you know he won’t hesitate to play Fili back to back as well if he deserves so. It’s a big motivator.”

The competition hasn’t grated their bond. They have a strong relationship both on and off the ice.

“It’s good healthy competition on and off the ice. It’s great that we get along so well together,” Murray said. “Having that caliber of pair really makes sure neither one of us are being complacent on the ice, so it’s pushing continuous improvement.”

ALL DRESSED UP AND NOWHERE TO GO — The Minutemen will have an empty schedule for the first time all season. UMass played a home-and-home series during each of the first three weekends of the season, the only team in Hockey East to do so.

“We’d like to play again this weekend but I think we’re on the outside looking in, unfortunately,” Carvel said. “We feel fortunate that we’ve been able to play. I feel bad for the teams that are practicing, practicing, practicing and can’t get on the ice and play games.”

There will be three men’s series in Hockey East this weekend: UConn vs. Boston College and Maine vs. New Hampshire on Friday and Saturday, and Merrimack vs. Northeastern on Saturday and Sunday.

Many hockey conferences initially announced they would only allow in-conference competition during the season, but that resolution could be thawing in the face of so many canceled games.

“I think the next step is to allow teams that can play to play. We’re ready to go again,” Carvel said. “Every conference started in the fall claiming they weren’t gonna play nonleague opponents. That’s when you think everyone in your league is going to play. The ECAC went quickly to ‘oh we’ll play.’ Ideally we’d like to play this weekend, but it would have to be a nonconference opponent and as of right now that looks like it’s not a possibility.”

BALANCED SCORING ALMOST ENOUGH — UMass’ 18 goals have been scored by 12 players. Freshman Josh Lopina leads the team with three, and four players have two. The Minutemen are averaging 3 goals per game. Carvel would like to see that closer to 3.5.

“I think you’re seeing it play out. We score by committee with our back end being an important part of it,” he said. “That’s what we’re gonna consistently need. We know we need to do more. We’ve got to be able to score three to four goals consistently, but we seem to be stuck at two or three.”

RETURN OF THE MARC — Junior defenseman Marc Del Gaizo returned to the ice for the first time Saturday since the since suffering a “tough upper-body injury” in the season opening series against UConn. He tallied three assists over the weekend and helped stabilize UMass’ defensive corps, which has been wracked with injuries early this season.

“He’s a big impact player. Marc’s all over,” Carvel said. “He was a huge deficit when we didn’t have him against Boston College. He’s as important a player as we have on our team.”

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

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