UMass re-discovers game in rout of Vermont

Staff Writer
Published: 1/13/2019 12:00:36 AM

AMHERST — Greg Carvel’s biggest concern about the winter break was whether the time off would stall UMass’ momentum.

For the first three games since the hiatus, the Minutemen looked like a team still trying to re-discover the keys to success. Although UMass did win two of those games, it was clear that a spark was missing for the No. 2 team in the land and the wins were more arduous than they should have been.

So in the time between UMass’ 4-1 win over Vermont on Friday and its game with the Catamounts on Saturday, the Minutemen did plenty of soul searching. And in the process, it found that second gear in time for Saturday.

“We just got away from the basics,” sophomore defenseman Cale Makar said. “We saw a lot of clips from (Friday’s) game and we just realized we weren’t playing to our identity. We had a long sit down as a team, we talked about it in the morning, and we responded pretty well and it shows through in the character that we have all throughout the team.”

The Minutemen were on the offensive from the opening drop of the puck and never relented Saturday at the Mullins Center. They peppered Vermont goalie Stefanos Lekkas with 46 shots and 89 attempts, keeping the Catamounts on their heels for 60 minutes.

The final result was a 5-1 win that felt more lopsided than the scoreline would indicate and left UMass far more satisfied in the postgame locker room than it has been since the calendar turned to 2019.

“It definitely feels like we earned it,” said Makar, who scored twice and added two assists Saturday to give him nine points in seven career games against Vermont. “(Friday), there were times we played well, but I don’t think at the end of the day we deserved the way we won, and (Saturday) we did.”

UMass (17-3-0, 9-1-0 Hockey East) had to earn everything against Lekkas, who single-handedly kept the Catamounts competitive. He stopped 29 of the 31 shots he faced in the first two periods to miraculously keep the score at 2-1 after 40 minutes. In the second period alone, the Minutemen outshot Vermont 19-3, but both teams only scored once in the period.

Yet UMass never showed any frustration over being stonewalled and eventually wore down the Catamounts (8-11-1, 1-8-1 HEA) for three third-period goals to pull away.

“Vermont plays a very good defensive system and they have a very good goaltender,” Carvel said. “It was a game that we call a ‘pound the rock game’ where you can’t get frustrated because you haven’t scored. We only had one goal halfway through the game, but we’ve seen this a few times where we continue to be persistent and relentless and eventually you break the dam, and that was the case in the third period. We were very good all game, but in the third period we took it to another level.”

It was the power play that finally gave the Minutemen some relief in the third period as UMass took advantage of Vermont’s parade to the penalty box. UMass scored on two of its three chances with the man advantage in the third period and went 3 of 7 overall for the game. The Minutemen’s 16 power-play shots were only one fewer than the Catamounts had for the entire game.

Although Vermont entered the weekend with the third-ranked penalty kill in the nation, UMass scored five times on 11 power-play opportunities in the two victories. Sophomore Oliver Chau scored one each night on individual efforts to find space to release his shot. On Saturday, he calmly skated from the point between the two faceoff circles after taking the handoff from Ty Farmer and used Mario Ferraro’s screen in front to rip a shot past Lekkas.

He said UMass’ success on the man advantage came down to the Minutemen executing their systems and finding ways to fire pucks on Lekkas.

“During the pre-scout one of the things about their PK is they really pack it in, so we can take a lot of shots and then get the rebound and take more shots and create more chances,” Chau said. “One of the things we focused on was moving the puck quicker and trying to stretch them out and eventually get some shots to the net.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.




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