UMass hockey: Kenny Connors’ OT winner lifts Minutemen past Northeastern, 2-1

UMass players celebrate a third period goal by Michael Cameron (27) against AIC earlier this season at the Mullins Center in Amherst.

UMass players celebrate a third period goal by Michael Cameron (27) against AIC earlier this season at the Mullins Center in Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By HANNAH BEVIS 

Staff Writer

Published: 11-03-2023 11:56 PM

Modified: 11-03-2023 11:56 PM


AMHERST — The hockey season can be a long and arduous grind, and it’s a given that a team can’t show up at its best every single night. The measure of a group is how they can perform on the nights when they aren’t playing up to their normal standards. 

UMass showed that it can win even on the more lackluster nights, grabbing its collective lunch pail on Friday and grinding out a 2-1 overtime win against a dangerous Northeastern team in Hockey East action at the Mullins Center. 

“It's funny how the games work, sometimes you think you play well and deserve to win, sometimes you don't play so well and find a way to win, and that was a case tonight,” UMass head coach Greg Carvel said. “We didn't come out with much jump. Northeastern was a much better team in the first period…. It's good to get to leave the building with a W.” 

Kenny Connors played hero for the UMass faithful on Friday night, going bar down with 1:45 left in the extra frame off assists from Jack Musa and Scott Morrow to secure the victory. Goalie Michael Hrabal made 26 saves and was less than two minutes away from a shutout before the Minutemen gave up a 2-on-0 that Northeastern’s Cam Lund converted on; Carvel called Hrabal “the difference” in the game. 

Aaron Bohlinger scored the first goal of the game to put UMass up 1-0, with a heads-up assist from graduate forward Liam Gorman and an impressive secondary assist from Lucas Mercuri, who lost his stick on the rush but used his skates to kick the puck over to Gorman.

“I did the easy part. All the guys made a lot of nice plays – (Mercuri), (Taylor Makar), (Gorman) – Gorms put it right in my wheelhouse and I knew I was going high and I just kind of put my head down and shot it,” Bohlinger said. “They did all the hard work. Lot of won battles led to that.”

The home team managed to hold off a Northeastern push to start the second. UMass got some chances in the middle frame, but after playing some of the most disciplined hockey they’ve seen all season, the Minutemen started to crack toward the tail end of the second period. 

Makar took a penalty for tripping with 5:42 left, the first power play Northeastern had all game. UMass was able to kill it off, but less than 30 seconds after the Minutemen returned to full strength, they skated right back to the box. Ryan Lautenbach was whistled for a hit from behind, receiving a five-minute major along with a game misconduct, skating to the locker room for an early end to his night. 

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It put the Minutemen in a tight spot – with 2:46 left in the second period, they now had to kill off five minutes of Northeastern’s power play, the sixth best PP unit in the country. While nobody wants to take a major penalty, UMass did get lucky in when it was taken – the club essentially had to kill two regular penalties, one to end the second period and one to open the third. Though Northeastern had a dangerous look to close the second period, the penalty kill shut the Huskies down for the majority of the major. 

“I think the guys knew in the second period, we were starting to get the cycle going, we were getting some chances, and luckily that kill was basically split in half, so we just had to kill two extended penalties,” Carvel said. “It gave the guys life, because I think we did a pretty good job. I don’t think we gave up much on that five-minute power play.”

The opening period had been relatively quiet, with just one power play and neither team lighting the lamp. UMass had an opportunity to take an early lead 53 seconds into the game with Cam Lund in the box for tripping, but the Huskies were able to kill off the PP and the teams played on. 

Northeastern poured on the pressure in the latter half of the period, getting a couple quick odd-player chances. Hrabal left a couple of pucks lying in the crease that his team was able to clear out before they turned into second chances.

The Minutemen will get to rest for the remainder of Homecoming weekend before hosting a pair of games against Vermont next weekend. The puck will drop on Friday night at 7 p.m. and at 6 p.m. on Saturday; Friday night’s game will be broadcast on NESN. 

Hannah Bevis can be reached at hbevis@gazettenet.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.