UMass blanks Warriors, 4-0

For The Recorder
Friday, October 27, 2017

AMHERST — UMass coach Greg Carvel said he wasn’t worried about his team’s scoring drought coming into the game. The Minutemen had enough chances in last week’s two losses to Ohio State to leave him confident the goals would come.

His players proved him right in their Hockey East opener as the Minutemen dominated from start to finish in a 4-0 win over Merrimack Friday at the Mullins Center.

“I’m really proud of my team and impressed how we played through the first two periods,” Carvel said. “We really kind of won the game through the first two periods. ... I thought we checked well and played with a lot of intensity. We played to our identity really well. All in all, it was a really good first Hockey East game for us.”

The Minutemen entered Friday’s game scoreless in their last 109 minutes, 59 seconds of ice time, but they didn’t look goal-starved Friday. It took a grinder goal on the power play to break the ice with 6:23 left in the first. In traffic in front of the net, the Minutemen hammered away at the loose puck that Merrimack goalie Drew Vogler struggled to smother. It eventually bounced out toward the right wing faceoff circle where Jake McLaughin was pinching in from the point. The sophomore blueliner launched it back through traffic by Vogler to make it 1-0 ending UMass’ drought at 123:36.

It’s next goal-less streak didn’t last nearly as long. Freshman Eetu Torpstrom took a pass from Philip Lagunov, skated through the mid-slot and flipped a backhander by Vogler just 2:15 after McLaughlin’s goal to make it 2-0 after the first period.

Cale Makar’s personal goal drought ended early in the second period. The much-hyped freshman defenseman’s offensive abilities had been on display through the first six games, but he hadn’t found the back of the net yet. But he stole a bad Merrimack clear in the high slot, and picked the top right corner to make it 3-0, 13 seconds into the middle frame.

Josh Couturier made it four UMass goals by four different defensmen on the power play. With 4:41 left in the third, McLaughlin fed him the puck a couple feet off the left-wing boards. The left-handed shooting defenseman got the tough-angle wrist shot just inside the near post to make it 4-0 ending Vogler’s night early as Merrimack coach Mark Denehy hooked him in favor of Craig Pantano.

The offensive breakthrough was more than enough for goalie Matt Murray. When he’s playing well, the freshman thrives on an economy of motion, rarely getting out of position. He turned away 24 shots and backstopped UMass’ five successful penalty kills.

“We’ve only had him for a couple of games and every game he gets better,” Carvel said. “He’s giving us a lot of confidence. When you can play and know your goalie is going to cover up some mistakes, that’s quite an asset to have. That’s what we’ve seen here the past three games.”

With John Leonard already out with an upper body injury, the Minutemen lost freshman center Jake Gaudet to a lower-body in the first period leaving them two forwards down.

“Our injuries are starting to mount a little bit,” Carvel said. “That’s a bit of a concern.”

Junior Austin Plevy, who’d been a healthy scratch since the season opener, returned to action.

“He earned his way back in through his practices and what we’ve seen away from the games,” Carvel said. “I thought tonight he played well. He didn’t cheat the game at all. We need him to elevate his game. We had to take some measures to get that out of him. We see him going in the right direction.”

The teams will play again Saturday at Volpe Arena in North Andover at 7 p.m. UMass (4-3-0, 1-0-0 Hockey East) had just five overall wins and two league wins last year. It can reach both of those marks Saturday.

The win had added significance for Carvel as his team’s impressive showing came with his mentor, Mike Babcock, who he coached for in Anaheim and Ottawa, in the building. Now the coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Babcock’s son, also named Mike, plays for Merrimack. The Leafs play in Philadelphia Saturday and Babcock made the detour to Amherst.

“He’s very much one of my greatest mentors,” Carvel said. “I was really proud of how our team played. It does mean something to me that he was in the building and saw my team perform to the level they did.”