Minutemen ride third-period surge to 5-2 win

For The Recorder
Tuesday, February 06, 2018

AMHERST — When Merrimack scored with 30.6 seconds left in the second period, it looked like the Warriors, although down a goal, had momentum in the battle between two teams badly in need of a victory.

But UMass came out of the intermission aggressive and angry and seized back control. The Minutemen scored twice in the first minute of the third period, igniting them to a 5-2 Hockey East win Tuesday at the Mullins Center.

“I thought that was a real solid 60 minutes by our guys tonight,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “For us to score five goals is much needed.”

Johnny Leonard, whose defensive lapse contributed to Merrimack’s second-period goal, atoned for the mistake quickly. He corralled the puck in the neutral zone and his momentum easily put him behind the Merrimack defense on a breakaway. He beat goalie Drew Vogler low 26 seconds into the period to make it 3-1.

Just 28 seconds later, Jake Horton made it 4-1 off the faceoff and UMass was never threatened again as the teams traded goals to create the final score.

“I knew I owed the team one. It was kind of my fault, the one they scored at the end of the second,” Leonard said. “I tried to make up for it as best I could, whether it was making a big defensive play or getting a lucky bounce on the breakaway.”

Carvel said, offensively, Leonard looked like he did before an early-season injury derailed his strong start.

“When he scores, it looks easy. It’s not easy to score,” Carvel said. “He’s really impressive with the puck. We’re trying to make him a more complete player. But he’s growing. With the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, he’s really an elite player. You’re seeing that spark again.”

The win snapped a six-game losing streak for UMass (12-16-1, 6-12-1 Hockey East) and leapfrogged it over Merrimack (8-17-4, 5-13-2) into 10th place in Hockey East.

“Our team played a full 60 minutes tonight. That’s what was important after a handful of losses,” Horton said.

Getting the first goal has been critical to UMass success this season, and Leonard broke the ice with 7:45 left in the first period. He collected the puck just inside the blue line near the left point and stepped around two defenders, giving him a clear look. He picked his spot, wristing the puck past Drew Vogler’s late glove inside the far post to make it 1-0.

Niko Rufo doubled UMass’ lead on the power play with 4:10 left. Attacking the net though the slot, he arrived in perfect time to redirect Philip Lagunov’s centering pass behind Vogler to make it 2-0.

Merrimack got on the board and grabbed some momentum with the only goal of the second period with 30.6 seconds left. Breaking in down the right wing boards, Ludvig Larsson snapped a shot past Matt Murray (31 saves) to make it 2-1.

UMass is at Boston University, Friday at 7:30 p.m.