UMass hockey: Minutemen score twice in opening five minutes to defeat Providence, advance to Hockey East semifinals

UMass hockey players celebrate a second period goal against Boston College earlier this season at the Mullins Center.

UMass hockey players celebrate a second period goal against Boston College earlier this season at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By THOMAS JOHNSTON

Staff Writer

Published: 03-16-2024 8:08 PM

Modified: 03-17-2024 4:03 PM


It was a dream start for the Massachusetts hockey team in its Hockey East Tournament quarterfinal contest against Providence on Saturday. 

With their season on the line, the fifth-seeded Minutemen tallied two goals in the opening five minutes of action as Ryan Lautenbach registered a goal 1 minute, 7 seconds just in before Ryan Ufko put UMass ahead 2-0 just 4:16 into the game. 

That quick start proved to be the difference. The Minutemen took a 3-0 lead with 5:38 to play, fourth-seeded Providence got one back 28 seconds later but it was the lone shot the Friars got past UMass goalie Michael Hrabel, as the freshman made 27 saves to help the Minutemen advance to Friday’s semifinals at TD Garden with a 3-1 victory at Schneider Arena in Providence, R.I. 

“That’s the best 60 minutes we’ve put together this year,” Minutemen coach Greg Carvel told reporters after the game. “I thought we prepared the team extremely well. We had a game plan and the players executed extremely well. Obviously getting ahead early is very helpful but I thought we limited them offensively. I thought special teams we were better. We were big on faceoffs and a lot of guys played selfless games which you need to do this time of year. We earned that victory tonight. That wasn’t a fluke by any measure.” 

It’s the third time in four years UMass (20-12-3) has reached the Hockey East semifinals. The Minutemen will take on No. 1 Boston College after the Eagles beat UConn, 5-4, in the quarters. That semifinal game will take place at 4 p.m. at the Garden. 

“It feels great,” Carvel said. “I’m really happy with this group of kids. They deserve it. We had a lot of games this year where we should have won but we won this one when we really needed it. I think it’s a huge boost for this group. They’ve been really good all year. They’re great kids and they play hard. I think they’ve deserved more than they’ve gotten.”

Saturday’s win wasn’t just about advancing in the Hockey East Tournament, but also keeping the Minutemen’s hopes of an NCAA tournament berth alive. UMass moved up to No. 13 in the PairWise Rankings after the game, while Providence dropped down to No. 16.

“Tonight is 20 wins,” Carvel said. “That’s a major achievement. Usually enough to get you in the NCAA tournament but this year it feels like it has to be 21 or 22. I’m excited because it’s a good opportunity for all the UMass fans to come to Boston and be proud of their school.” 

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It took a great effort from Taylor Makar and a slick pass from Lucas Mercuri that gave UMass the opening lead. 

Makar won the puck in the corner and knocked it over to Mercuri. He slipped a backhand pass to Lautenbach in front, and he smashed it home to give the Minutemen early momentum. 

UMass’ second tally came off an offensive zone draw win. Kenny Connors won the faceoff back to Ufko, who drove a slap shot through traffic that made it to the back of the net and in the blink of an eye, the Minutemen held a 2-0 lead. 

It looked like UMass was comfortable holding that 2-0 lead from there. Following a scoreless second period, the Minutemen clamped down and limited Providence’s chances. The Friars finished with six shots on goal in the final 20 minutes. 

“I thought we did a really good job defending around the net,” Carvel said. “That’s where they’re very effective. A big part of our game plan was limit the pucks from below the goal line into the slot. We had a lot of bodies in there. I don’t think Michael had to make a ton of big, big saves from the slot area which is what we were trying to prevent them from doing.” 

Connors added UMass’ third goal, one that helped give the Minutemen an extra cushion late. Following a scramble in front of the Friar net, Connors got in, collected the loose puck and knocked it home to add to UMass’ lead. Lautenbach and Mercuri were credited with assists on the play. 

Providence (18-13-4) went on the power play just after Connors’ tally and got one back. Guillaume Richard got the puck at the top of the zone, sent a pass to Hudson Malinoski in the right circle and he rocketed a slap shot past Hrabel to put the Friars on the board. Hrabel made sure it would be the lone shot to get past him, as UMass held on late to move to the semis. 

Providence goalie Philip Svedeback finished with 22 saves.