UMass ousts Cats; at Huskies next

  • UMass defenseman, Ivan Chukarov, left, and captain, Jake Horton, attempt to take control over the puck against Vermont's Bryce Misley, far right, during a Hockey East Playoff game against Vermont, Sunday, March 4, 2018 at the Mullins Center. For The Recorder/Caroline O'Connor

  • UMass team celebrates Oliver Chau's goal against Vermont goaltender Stefanos Lekkas during a Hockey East playoff game Sunday at the Mullins Center in Amherst. For The Recorder/Caroline O'Connor

  • UMass players, left to right, Jake Horton, Jack Suter and Ryan Wischow, celebrate their Hockey East Playoff series win against Vermont, March 4, 2018 at the Mullins Center. For The Recorder/Caroline O'Connor

For the Recorder
Sunday, March 04, 2018

AMHERST — For first two games of UMass’ opening-round Hockey East playoff series with Vermont, the result seemed to ride on every shift and every play from the first period straight through overtime.

In Game 3, the Minutemen eliminated the drama early and delivered the biggest win for the program in a decade. They took momentum from the opening faceoff and never relinquished it, controlling play throughout en route to a dominant 5-1 over Vermont in the deciding game three of their first round series.

“That was a really good hockey series. Vermont played hard. Tonight the difference was we came out in the first period and played the way we needed to which we weren’t able to do in the first two games,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “Our team’s common goal this year was to gain some respect for our hockey program. I think we’ve far exceeded even my hopes for this season. To get home ice and to win a series, we’re kind of in uncharted waters. I’m excited to go in and be an underdog at Northeastern. I’m excited to see what we can do.”

UMass (17-18-2), the No. 8-seed will face No. 2 Northeastern in another best-of-three quarterfinal series that begins Friday at 7 p.m. at Matthews Arena, where all games will be played.

Sophomore goalie Ryan Wischow started in place of injured Matt Murray and did everything UMass needed of him to put the Minutemen in position to win, making 31 saves. After being part of last year’s 5-29-2 season, Wischow marveled at how far the team had progressed.

“These guys can’t really relate,” he said gesturing to two freshman teammates joining him in the press conference, “but last year was a really tough year for a lot of us. … We wanted to do it for the guys who can relate to how tough it’s been. We’re not going to have any more seasons like that going forward.”

In the first two games of the series, Carvel had been frustrated with his team’s lack of early energy. Both nights, the Minutemen fell behind 2-0. His message took root Sunday. They came out with jump in their step and took control from the beginning.

Mario Ferraro opened the scoring 2:40 into the game. He grabbed the rebound of a John Leonard shot, wheeled clockwise around the back of the net and flipped it past goalie Stefanos Lekkas to make it 1-0.

“That was huge. Mario set the record tonight for the most points by a freshman (defenseman) in UMass history,” said Carvel of Ferraro’s 23 points. “What a great kid. He’s so unassuming. He works his tail off every single shift. It’s an honor to coach that kid. That goal was huge for us to get off on the right foot.”

Jake Gaudet doubled the edge with 10:07 left. Carrying the puck into the zone, he put on a burst of speed to go around the defenseman at the top of the faceoff circle then pivoted hard to the net and flipped the puck past Lekkas to make it 2-0.

Vermont got on the board 4:53 into the second period when Matt O’Donnell scored off a rebound to make it 2-1.

But Austin Albrecht, who has saved his best play for late in his freshman year, scored his fourth goal in the past five games to bring the cushion back to two goals at 3-1 with 10:22 left. Moments later, the Catamounts had a chance to answer but Wischow stoned Max Kaufman from close range.

“I’m very proud of what he was able to do for us tonight,” Carvel said. “There were two, three or four times that he made big saves to keep the game in our control.”

Four minutes later Oliver Chau stretched the lead to 4-1 with 7:18 left in the second.

If Chau’s goal didn’t seal it, Johnny Leonard’s certainly did. After stealing the puck in the neutral zone, he executed a nifty toe-drag that fooled defenseman Corey Moriarty into overskating the play. Leonard then encored the trick to get Lekkas to commit, and then tucked the puck behind the off-balance goalie to make it 5-1.

After calling Cale Makar’s end-to-end rush Thursday, the season’s prettiest goal, Carvel was forced to reconsider.

“I thought Cale had scored the nicest goal of the year until John scored one tonight which was unbelievable,” Carvel said.