Power play leads UMass in opener

Staff Writer
Published: 10/12/2018 11:24:47 PM

AMHERST — After converting on just 15 percent of chances last season, UMass wanted to improve its power play this year.

It was mission accomplished in the first game of the season.

The Minutemen scored on all three of their man-advantage chances in the first period and on 4-of-7 overall to skate past Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 6-1, on Friday at Mullins Center. It was the first time in five years UMass scored four power play goals in a game.

“We felt last year that the power play let us down a lot of nights and we could have won more games if our power play was more effective,” coach Greg Carvel said. “We made it a focus point through September and it was good to see it be very successful and effective.”

UMass (1-0) swiftly and patiently cycled the puck around the offensive zone on its first power play, threatening RPI with several chances. The Minutemen received the break they needed when Will Reilly was whistled for a cross-check in front of the goal to set up a 5-on-3 advantage. It didn’t take long for them to capitalize as Marc Del Gaizo zipped a pass to Cale Makar who fed Jacob Pritchard for the goal.

Pritchard found himself in nearly an identical spot next to the right faceoff dot again on the remaining advantage and hammered a shot off a feed from Makar. Linden Marshall kicked out his right leg to stop the shot, but the rebound landed on Del Gaizo’s stick in stride and he buried it to double UMass’ advantage.

Mitchell Chaffee added to UMass’ success on the power play, one-timing the centering pass from Amherst native John Leonard into the open net. Ty Farmer added a power play goal in the second period by poking home the loose puck during a scramble in front of the Engineers net.

“We were exposing their zone defense and being able to get a lot of pucks on net,” Makar said. “We focused a lot in practice on getting pucks in from the top and I think we got a lot of pucks through and then just banging rebounds in. … I think it’s really important to score on the first one and then obviously it gives every other unit after that a lot of confidence.”

UMass’ other two goals were scored by Makar, who finished with a career-best four points in the game. At the end of the first period, he showcased most of his athleticism on an end-to-end rush, splitting two RPI defenders at the Engineers’ blue line before flipping the puck over Marshall while absorbing some contact from Reilly. In the third period, he crashed the back post and slammed home the rebound off a Brett Boeing shot for UMass’ sixth and final goal.

Makar said he knew when he got the puck on his stick late in the first period that he would try to take it to the net. It’s an instinct he said he is trying to use more this season if the opportunity presents itself.

“There was a pretty big gap between the D and then I just felt like I would try to expose it,” Makar said. “(I’m going to do more of that) in the right time, obviously defense first, I’m a defenseman, but if the opportunity comes and you want to have an odd-man advantage, it’s a big opportunity for us.”

The only goal to slip past Matt Murray came on RPI’s second power play when a shot was deflected wide of Murray and took a bounce off the boards behind the goal onto the stick of Jakub Lacka for the tap-in. Otherwise, Murray looked more confident with a strong 27-save performance while rarely being tested.

Much of the reason Murray didn’t face a lot of quality chances was the Minutemen’s work in the defensive zone to clog up shooting lanes. RPI pinned UMass deep into its own zone for most of the first half of the second period, but struggled to put pucks on net. During one sequence, UMass blocked two shots and then poked the puck away from an Engineers forward on the doorstep to eliminate the scoring threat.

Murray handled the shots that did make their way through to him and did a good job controlling where he placed his rebounds. It was a sign of his growing maturity while he attempts to solidify his spot as UMass’ starting goalie.

“Coming in this year with a lot of confidence after a fairly-successful season last year and knowing what to expect from the league and the guys in the room gave me a lot of confidence,” Murray said.

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