Kessel scores twice, No. 8 UMass blanks UNH for 7th straight win

  • UMass forward Jerry Harding (22) skates the puck into the offensive zone defended by UNH’s Charlie Kelleher during the Minutemen’s 4-0 Hockey East victory at the Mullins Center in Amherst on Wednesday. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass defenseman Matthew Kessel (4), right, and UNH’s Angus Crookshank get locked up during Hockey East action at the Mullins Center in Amherst on Wednesday. The Minutemen scored a 4-0 victory. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 1/6/2021 8:48:40 PM

Make it seven wins in a row for the UMass hockey team. 

The No. 8 Minutemen relied on strong special teams, physical defense and a spotless performance in goal from Matt Murray to earn a 4-0 victory over the University of New Hampshire in Hockey East action Wednesday afternoon at the Mullins Center. 

The UMass offense continued its red-hot play of late, as the Minutemen  (9-3-1) have scored at least four goals in all seven games during the winning streak.

“I’m very happy with our team’s effort today,” UMass head coach Greg Carvel said. “I thought that was a very complete game. I thought we were really good today, solid for 60 minutes. Our special teams were excellent again. Our guys came to play and we didn’t give UNH much life.” 

It was a dominant display by both UMass special teams units.

Three of the team’s four goals came on the power play — going 3-for-6 on man-up situations — while the defense blanked the UNH power play unit, nullifying all five of its chances.

“I felt like this was our most complete game,” Carvel said. “UNH had a few more guys back so I was expecting a different kind of game — a faster game — but I thought we checked very well. I thought we neutralized them very well. We created a lot during five-on-five. I was expecting it to be a close game but we played well enough where it really wasn’t that close.”

Reed Lebster opened the scoring for the Minutemen, with defenseman Marc Del Gaizo setting him up beautifully with a stretch pass that left Lebster alone on the break. He beat Wildcat goalie Mike Robinson glove side to put UMass up 1-0 with 8:03 to play in the first period.

From there, it was a blistering run from the Minutemen in the second period that put the game to bed.

UMass capitalized on a UNH penalty, as Bobby Travino was left wide open for a rebound off a shot from Oliver Chau. Travino buried the second opportunity to make it 2-0 just 6:38 into the period.

Two minutes later, the Wildcats (2-3-1) were once again sent to the box and the Minutemen made them pay for it. Matthew Kessel blasted a shot from the blue line to make it 3-0, taking the wind out of UNH’s sails.

Chau and Zac Jones picked up assists on the goal. 

“We were playing really well but the score was still 1-0 halfway through the game,” Carvel said. “I felt like once we scored those couple goals, it would have been nice to stay out of the penalty box the rest of the way. It’s something we have to get to, limiting the other team’s power play, but I thought our penalty kill did a great job. Special teams were a big factor tonight.”

Kessel tallied his second goal of the game with 5:09 to play, with Zac Jones adding his third assist of the night. Jones fired a shot wide of the net, with the rebound coming out to Kessel who put it home to make it 4-0. It was the third time the Minutemen scored on the power play.

The two-goal performance gives the sophomore defenseman eight goals for the year. Kessel and Jones have provided a spark plug of offense from the back end.

“Nobody would have projected what he’s done,” Carvel said of Kessel. “I expect every game to get some offense out of our blue line. Matt’s just at a different level. He’s made a deal with the devil, it seems like he scores every game. He wants to score, he’s making plays, he’s developing his offensive game and our power-play has been much better because of him and Jones and what they’ve done on the blue line.”

UMass has the rest of the week off before returning to the ice Jan. 12 for an away game at UMass-Lowell (4 p.m.).


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