No. 1 UMass breaks through in third, skates past No. 8 Quinnipiac

  • The No. 1-rankUMass hockey team celebrates during a 3-1 victory over No. 8 Quinnipiac, Saturday at the Mullins Center. THOM KENDALL FOR UMASS ATHLETICS

  • A record 8,412 packed a sold-out Mullins Center as No. 1-ranked UMass beat No. 8 Quinnipiac, 3-1, Saturday. THOM KENDALL FOR UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/9/2018 12:06:50 AM

AMHERST — In one instant, the pressure building inside the Mullins Center was released in a moment of pure elation.

For 45 minutes Saturday night, the record crowd of 8,412 spectators were on the edge of their seats as UMass failed to convert on its chances. Quinnipiac goalie Keith Petruzzelli fought off several shots through traffic and the Minutemen were unable to pounce on the rebounds those saves created.

The tension inside the rink was lifted when defenseman Ivan Chukarov sent a wrist shot flying past Petruzzelli to tie the game with 14:33 left. It set the course for a third-period avalanche that carried the top-ranked Minutemen to a 3-1 win over the eighth-ranked Bobcats.

“When I saw the puck go in and the fans started going nuts, it built some momentum there and got some energy going,” Chukarov said. “From then, guys were rolling. I felt like we were all over them after that point.”

Chukarov’s goal, his first since Feb. 24, 2017, was the result of one of the few alterations UMass coach Greg Carvel had to make during the game. Petruzzelli stopped all 25 shots he faced in the first two periods, and even if they weren’t the cleanest stops, he was able to find the puck when it left sticks. Despite traffic in front of his net, Petruzzelli found lanes through which to see the shots UMass sent his way, something Carvel said he wanted to correct.

On the tying goal, Jake Gaudet stood tall in front of Petruzzelli as the Minutemen (13-2-0) cycled the puck around the net and blocked the goalie’s vision. When Chukarov released his shot, Petruzzelli didn’t move until after the puck hit the twine behind him.

“Petruzzelli, he looked really calm in the net, so we talked in the second intermission about getting in front of his eyes,” Carvel said. “Chukarov scored because we were in his eyes. I’m not sure who was in front of the net, but I couldn’t see the goalie from the bench, so our guys were doing a good job blocking him.”

Once Chukarov restored the raucous atmosphere to the Mullins Center, it didn’t take long for the Minutemen to convert for their first lead of the game. Just five minutes later, John Leonard and Philip Lagunov forced a turnover behind the Quinnipiac net with the forecheck and Lagunov centered the puck to Jacob Pritchard. The senior simply made one move to throw Petruzzelli off balance and then slipped the puck under him for a 2-1 lead.

Bobby Trivigno added an empty-netter for the final scoreline, giving UMass three goals in the sixth and final period of the home-and-home series with the Bobcats (14-3-0) over the weekend. The Minutemen didn’t score in any of the first five despite some great chances, especially in the first 40 minutes Saturday, but remained confident that its breakthrough would come soon enough.

“It was a bit frustrating, five periods and we haven’t scored a goal,” Pritchard said. “We felt like momentum was coming our way and we were going to crack one soon, so we were still very optimistic.”

Despite lacking much offensive zone time, Quinnipiac still played solid in its defensive structure to stymie UMass’ attack. The Bobcats denied the Minutemen free reign on the boards and limited their ability to include the backline in their cycle when they established possession. Oftentimes, UMass’ forwards would circle behind the net for 15-20 seconds at a time while waiting for a passing lane to open either toward the front of the goal or the blue line.

“They did a good job, they took away things we’re able to do to a lot of teams,” Carvel said. “They did a good job trying to take our defensemen out of the cycle, not allowing us to move pucks up the wall. But we adjusted, we grinded and guys won battles down low.”

The victory was made more special with the sold-out crowd that packed the Mullins Center for UMass’ first home game as a No. 1 team. It was the first time in 18 years that the school had sold out the arena, and the crowd surpassed the previous record of 8,389 fans, which was set in 2008 and then tied two years later.

The energy from the crowd was palpable early in the game as the student section waved the white towels they had been given and the fans remained standing. Both Carvel and Chukarov said it was a fun environment to play in and were hopeful the fans would return for the rest of the season.

“It was something special,” Chukarov said. “I kind of got goosebumps walking out there and seeing all those people with the white towels. It was a sight to see, something we haven’t been used to in awhile, so it was good to see.”

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