UMass hockey steps on gas to beat UConn

  • UMass defenseman Zac Jones, from left, celebrates a UMass goal against UConn with defenseman Matthew Kessel and forward Oliver Chau, Wednesday at the Mullins Center. UMass won 6-2. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass junior forward Garrett Wait celebrates his goal against UConn, Wednesday at the Mullins Center. UMass won 6-2. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/23/2020 8:15:49 PM

The lead teetered precariously.

UConn put away two goals in the first 4 minutes, 9 seconds of the third period, paring the 10th-ranked UMass hockey team’s advantage to one.

Déjà vu? The Huskies erased a two-goal deficit in the third period the last time the teams met and won in a shootout.

Not Wednesday. The Minutemen responded with three straight goals to enter the holiday break with a 6-2 victory. It was their third straight win, all coming at the Mullins Center.

“We took the game back over,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “That’s an unbelievable response.”

UMass (5-3-1) led 3-0 after two periods thanks to two power-play goals out of the gates. The Minutemen went on the man advantage 1:52 after the puck dropped when UConn’s Ben Rigali went to the box for tripping. A minute and a half later, Zac Jones drove a shot from the blue line into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead, assisted by Oliver Chau and goalie Matt Murray.

“That’s his specialty. If he knows he has a screen, the goalie’s eyes are gone, he’s able to put the puck in the high parts of the net,” Carvel said. “He shines on the power play, he’s shines when he’s got the puck on the blue line. He’s so gifted and skilled and calm in those situations.”

Most of the first period was played in special teams territory. The teams combined for 11 penalties in the opening frame. Two of UConn’s penalties erased power-play opportunities for the Huskies, turning them into 4-on-4 situations.

“The story of this game was special teams, plain and simple,” UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh said.

UMass converted 3 of 7 power plays, while the Huskies went 0-for-5. It was the second game in a row the Minutemen scored three times on the power play.

“They really didn’t get set up that much,” Carvel said.

Matthew Kessel scored UMass’ second power-play goal 56 seconds into the second period from Carson Gicewicz and Bobby Trivigno.

UConn (1-4-1) established itself more in the second period, peppering Murray with 21 of its 29 shots on goal in the frame. The Huskies caught UMass unaware, except Murray, in a line change with 10:24 to go, and Nick Capone and Carter Turnbull faced Murray in a two-on-none breakaway.

Capone, on the left wing, passed to Turnbull on the right. He returned the pass for a one-timer that Murray comfortably kicked away with his right pad. Murray stopped 27 shots in his fifth consecutive start.

“I quickly thought to myself ‘Hey, he’s gonna stop this’ because I knew he was on it tonight,” Carvel said. “If he plays like that the rest of the way, we’re gonna win a lot of games.”

Trivigno made it 3-0 by finishing an Aaron Bohlinger pass on the goal’s front step with 3:36 remaining.

UConn rallied to start the third. Hudson Schandor scored 3 minutes in from Capone and Jake Flynn, then Jonny Evans made it 3-2 1:09 later from Kale Howarth and Harrison Rees.

“I’m a little disappointed that we came out in the third,” Carvel said. “We talked about finishing strong and allowed them, what we feel, were two easy goals against.”

At that point, Carvel shortened his bench and rolled out his top three lines to stem the tide. Gicewicz drew a hooking penalty on John Spets to put UMass on the power play 44 seconds after UConn’s second goal. Then he scored on the advantage from Jones and Kessel to answer at 6:13.

“That was the turning point for me when that line went out for that shift. Really turned the tide back our way, which was so necessary,” Carvel said. “It was an onslaught there for the first five minutes.”

Garrett Wait pushed it to a two-goal advantage midway through the period from Trivigno and Colin Felix. Then, with 7:49 left, Gicewicz tallied a second goal. He beat UConn goalie Tomas Vomacka on the power play with a fake in the open ice.

Gicewicz has four goals in the past two games to take the team lead with five. Carvel recently moved him from the center position out on the wing.

“We needed to get him in more predictable situations and help him find a comfort zone, and he has,” Carvel said. “I didn’t think this many points would come from it, but he’s coming along fast. He’s quickly becoming our seemingly most important player.”

The six goals were a season high for the Minutemen. They previously put away five against UConn in the season opener. UMass last scored six goals on Nov. 1, 2019, in a 6-3 win at Northeastern. Carvel has emphasized this season how well the team would need to defend, saying high-scoring games were unlikely.

“They went out and put six goals just to prove me wrong,” Carvel said. “I like that part of our identity.”

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

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