Late 2nd period goal sinks UMass hockey in 2-1 loss to Merrimack

  • UMass forward Lucas Mercuri is tied up in front of the net against Merrimack on Wednesday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass forward Taylor Makar celebrates a first-period goal against Merrimack on Wednesday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI / UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass forward Taylor Makar delivers a hit in the second period against Merrimack on Wednesday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI / UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass goalie Luke Pavicich tracks the play in the second period against Merrimack on Wednesday at the Mullins Center. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 12/7/2022 11:06:19 PM
Modified: 12/7/2022 11:06:01 PM

AMHERST – The range of what the UMass hockey team could be is narrowing because of who the Minutemen are right now.

No. 13 UMass committed seven penalties in a 2-1 loss against Merrimack on Wednesday at the Mullins Center. The No. 11 Warriors scored a game-winning goal in the final second of the second period to send the Minutemen to their first loss since Nov. 12 at Boston University.

It’s UMass’ 10th game against a ranked opponent in its past 11. 

“That's sort of been the discussion for us for a while now. It's evident we've played some top teams, we've had a very hard schedule, and we played them close, but at some point saying that our team has potential is no longer a compliment,” UMass captain Eric Faith said. “We’ve got to start making some changes and start to put our foot on the gas because we're losing games and we're losing points.”

The two-time defending Hockey East champion Minutemen are eighth in the conference standings but have only played one league game against teams not in the top six.

UMass showed its best side early in the first period, as Taylor Makar wasted little time extending his point streak to four games. He scored 1:28 in charging the net to give UMass a quick 1-0 lead. Reed Lebster fed him the puck from the back boards, and Kenny Connors received an assist, too. Makar has a goal in three straight contests.

“He's a completely different player than he was last year. That's great to see, he's been outstanding,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “He’s become a dominant player.”

Merrimack tied the game at 1 when Matt Copponi ripped in a shot from Ivan Zivlak with 9:50 left in the first. A teammate who lost his stick provided a screen in front of UMass goalie Luke Pavicich.

UMass nearly escaped a hellish second period with a 1-1 tie intact, but Merrimack forward Ottoville Leppänen dinked in a tip that fluttered over Pavicich’s glove with a second on the clock. Copponi and Alex Jeffries earned assists on the play.

“They're an old team. It helps to be an older team. Our young guys are good, but they're young. They've got a long way to go,” Carvel said. “We see good, really good signs, and that's great, but it's got to be harder. It's got to be longer. It's got to be more consistent. It's a natural progression. It helps to have mature, old, physical teams.”

UMass played most of the middle period in disarray after forward Lucas Mercuri was ejected 11:51 into the second frame when the initial call of a minor penalty was upgraded to a five-minute major and a game misconduct for slew footing, or swiping under an opponent’s legs from behind. It was his third penalty of the game, including an unsportsmanlike conduct. 

The Minutemen also lost Lebster with an injury and needed to juggle their lines the rest of the game.

Extra skater Mikey Adamson served the penalty, which UMass killed thanks to a Herculean effort from Pavicich, who saved six shots during the power play, many in quick succession as he sprawled out on the ice. Pavicich kept out 37 shots in the game.

The relief was shot lived after Makar went to the box for tripping 12 seconds after it expired. UMass killed that as well, and the Minutemen extinguished all four Merrimack power plays in the second period though still trailed 2-1 entering the third.

“It’s an uneven game to coach. But I don’t think we’re that far off from being a good team. We just can’t seem to put together 60 minutes, and a lot of it right now is penalties,” Carvel said. “I see things. We’ve got to keep pushing forward. It’s unfortunate we don’t play again for a while. We needed that one.”

UMass pulled Pavicich in the final two minutes after several stops and starts. Merrimack lined up three shots at the empty net, but they all went wide or were turned away by a UMass skater.

The Minutemen stared down their best chance to tie the game with 34 seconds remaining. They earned a power play after Merrimack face off violations and pulled Pavicich. UMass won the face off. Cal Kiefiuk nearly squeaked a rebound by Merrimack goalie Hugo Ollas, but the No. 11 Warriors (12-4-0, 8-2 Hockey East) held on.

“If something bad’s going to happen, let’s make it an earned goal. Our goalie played so well all game,” Merrimack coach Scott Borek said. “We did a good job of staying in lanes and not giving up easy shots.”

The Minutemen (7-6-3, 3-6-1) are off until playing Clarkson on Dec. 28 in Milwaukee, Wisc.

Kyle Grabowski can be  reached at Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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