Goalie Matt Murray sparks UMass past Vermont

  • John Leonard, center, of UMass, skates the puck past defensemen Corey Moriarty, left, and Derek Lodermeier of Vermont, in the first period, Friday at the Mullins Center. J. Anthony Roberts

  • John Leonard, left, of UMass, skates past Matt ODonnell and Corey Moriarty, right, in the first period, Friday at the Mullins Center. J. Anthony Roberts

Staff Writer
Published: 1/11/2019 11:21:02 PM

AMHERST — In every game he’s played this season, Matt Murray has seemingly made that one save to seal the win.

With No. 2 UMass protecting a precarious two-goal lead Friday night against Vermont, the sophomore goalie came up big once again. Murray slid over to his left and used his glove to deflect away a point-blank chance from Matt O’Donnell, who was left all alone in the slot, to preserve the advantage. That third period stop seemed to tamper the Catamounts’ momentum a little and helped Murray backstop the Minutemen to a 4-1 win at the Mullins Center.

“The biggest thing in that is just the increase in my battle both in games and in practices,” Murray said. “Especially in practices this year, I was challenged by the coaches to make that next step and I’ve been working toward that. I’m seeing that pay off in games.”

Murray’s heroics were needed to boost a team that has lost its spark since returning from the three-week winter break. The Minutemen (16-3-0, 8-1-0 Hockey East) were disconnected for most of the first period as Vermont (8-10-1, 1-7-1 HEA) limited them to just one shot on each offensive zone entry. That same malaise affected UMass in the third period as it tried to protect the three-goal lead it had built.

Niko Hildenbrand was whistled for a penalty early in the period that the Catamounts capitalized upon six seconds later, and Mario Ferraro was sent to the box 30 seconds later. UMass was able to kill off that power play, but Vermont was buzzing in the zone after finally breaking through and kept Murray busy. The sophomore made 10 of his 25 stops in the third period, continuing to provide small sparks of energy to UMass as it closed out its 16th win of the season.

“We get pretty energized on the bench, it’s great to see,” UMass sophomore Jake Gaudet said. “He kept us in the game in the third period. We gave up a lot of scoring chances, we were really sloppy defensively and Matt was able to bail us out. That’s been huge throughout the entire first half of the year and big so far in the second half.”

UMass came out with a jump in the second period and put some sustained pressure on Vermont goalie Stefanos Lekkas, who entered the game with a Hockey East high .935 save percentage. The wall finally cracked a little more than four minutes into the period when Bobby Trivigno barreled in on goal and stayed with the puck after missing his shot opportunity. He was able to shuffle the puck to Brett Boeing in front, who tucked the puck into the empty goal with Lekkas trying to scramble back into place after challenging Trivigno.

The Minutemen capitalized on their first power-play chance with Oliver Chau’s nifty move in the slot that gave him the space to snap a wrist shot that beat Lekkas cleanly. UMass’ final goal of the period came on an extended power play as Jacob Pritchard’s pass to the middle of the crease deflected in off Gaudet’s skate. Those uglier goals were a point of emphasis for coach Greg Carvel given his team’s struggles to throw pucks on net and sustain net-front pressure.

“We wanted to get pucks into the paint,” Carvel said. “We know Lekkas is a very good goalie, we wanted to shoot the puck and be around the net. At times we did a better job (Friday), but good goalies, you need to go into games thinking that we have to try a lot of different ways to beat him, and one of them is to get him not seeing the puck.”

Gaudet’s goal, which he admitted was questionable because of how the puck caromed off his skate, was the only tally UMass could muster on the major penalty assessed to Conor O’Neil after he speared Cale Makar in the groin behind the play. There was originally no penalty called as Makar skated gingerly to the bench, but after play was stopped, the referees went over to review the play and assessed O’Neil a game misconduct in addition to the major penalty.

That play was one of several late or borderline hits Vermont delivered during Friday’s game. The Catamounts were also whistled for a check from behind after the buzzer when Craig Puffer took a high shot at John Leonard once the game was over. Despite Vermont’s attempts to rattle the Minutemen, Carvel said he was proud of how his team responded to the hits and didn’t try to retaliate in the moment.

“It was an issue early in the year where guys were retaliating, and that’s one area that I’m very happy we matured,” Carvel said. “Some teams, that’s their game plan is to try to get you off your game with after-the-whistle stuff. … It’s up to the refs that that stuff is taken care of, but our guys have gotten very good about skating away and understanding nothing good comes out of retaliation.”

The two teams meet again Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

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