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UMass tripped up by UMass-Lowell in first game back

  • Jacob Pritchard, right, of UMass, controls the puck along the boards as UMass Lowell’s Nick Master fights for position, Friday at the Mullins Center. Lowell won 2-1. J. Anthony Roberts

Staff Writer
Published: 1/5/2019 1:41:29 AM

AMHERST — After three weeks without a game, UMass came out Friday looking like the same team that rose to No. 2 in the country.

The Minutemen were able to sustain some early pressure and force UMass-Lowell goalie Chris Hernberg to make a pair of lateral saves. But then Jake McLaughlin fell down, and the momentum changed for the rest of the game.

The junior’s tumble gifted Redi Stefanson a breakaway and he calmly waited out Matt Murray before tucking the puck into the net. The goal just 7 minutes, 50 seconds into the game changed the tide and the Minutemen fought upstream the rest of the night in a 2-1 loss to the River Hawks at the Mullins Center.

“I really liked the way we started,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “The first five minutes we were in the offensive zone and then Jake McLaughlin falls over and they get a breakaway. That gave them a lot of life, I really liked the way we were playing until then. Obviously in a tight game, that was a huge part of it.”

Minutes after surrendering the lead, the Minutemen (14-3-0, 7-1-0 Hockey East) had a chance to tie the game. This time, Hernberg slid over to disrupt a one-timer from Amherst native John Leonard on a 2-on-1 rush, knocking the puck away from the goal with his stick.

It proved to be that type of night for UMass, which outshot Lowell 34-21, including 24-11 in the final two periods. The Minutemen failed to connect on several odd-man rushes in the final two periods while chasing a goal. The most heartbreaking miss coming in the third period when Hernberg steered away Bobby Trivigno’s attempt on a 3-on-1 short-handed rush late in the third period.

“We had tons of chances to put the puck in the net, and some games go like that, that’s just the nature of hockey,” junior Niko Hildenbrand said. “Those are the types of games you’ve got to learn from and build on and not dwell on.”

The rushes proved to be UMass’ best chances of the night while it struggled to sustain pressure in the offensive zone. The River Hawks were able to clog the middle to take away shooting lanes and keep the Minutemen from posting up in front of Hernberg. Lowell blocked 16 shots and forced 27 others to miss the net while keeping Hernberg’s sight lines clean.

River Hawks coach Norm Bazin said his defensemen did a good job at lifting sticks and clearing out the net area for Hernberg.

“We tried to take away the middle, and we were successful at times,” Bazin said. “We did a better job as the game wore on of protecting the middle of the ice, and that helped.”

The one time UMass was able to create traffic in front of Hernberg, it resulted in a goal. Hildenbrand drove hard to the net and re-directed a slap pass from Colin Felix past Hernberg while Mitchell Chaffee set a screen in front of the goal.

Carvel said he thought his players were getting too fancy with the puck on their sticks and didn’t do enough to disturb Hernberg’s rhythm.

“Their guy made saves, but he saw a lot of pucks,” Carvel said. “That’s on us. We passed up shots … we needed to shoot the puck a little bit more and just have a go to the net straight-forward mentality. We left some stuff on the table.”

Hildenbrand and his linemates – junior Jack Suter and sophomore George Mika – were among the most consistent players for the Minutemen. The trio always seemed to find themselves in the offensive zone, combining for six shots on goal while heaping the forecheck pressure on Lowell.

Although they didn’t have the same type of near-miss chances as UMass’ top line, the fourth line did a lot of the dirty work to put that first line in position to potentially score.

“The biggest thing is we simplified the game,” Hildenbrand said. “It’s getting pucks low, it’s getting pucks at the net, it’s not overhandling pucks, it’s doing the little things. It worked well for us (Friday), and that’s what we have to stick to to be successful.”

17-HOUR TURNAROUND — UMass won’t have long to sulk in the misfortunes.

The Minutemen travel to Springfield to face American International (8-8-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday, some 17 hours after the final buzzer sounded Friday. Carvel and Hildenbrand both said the quick turnaround will be a good thing for UMass as it licks its wounds from a hard-luck defeat.

“It’s definitely tough coming from the late game tonight and guys recovering and getting their bodies back to where they want to,” Hildenbrand said. “But it’s just another opportunity for us to build and get even better.”

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