AMHERST, Mass. - Junior John Leonard's second hat trick in the past three games, which included two late third-period tallies, helped carry No. 8 University of Massachusetts hockey to a 5-3 win over No. 14/15 UMass Lowell on Saturday night at the Mullins Center. The victory moves the Minutemen to 19-10-2 overall, 12-7-2 in Hockey East play, while the River Hawks fall to 16-10-5 and 10-7-4in league action.
"Obviously we needed a really good effort tonight, we needed a win in Hockey East and we needed to find a way to beat Lowell," said UMass head coach Greg Carvel. "I didn't really like our first period, the energy wasn't great, but our second period was dominating. We scored three in the second, probably should've scored four, five or six. I thought Lowell was outstanding all weekend long, I think we put over 90 shots on net and tonight he (Tyler Wall) made some big, big saves that kept them in the game. Our goaltending this weekend was not to standard, it's that simple; I'm not going to tip-toe around it. The team in front of our goalies played extremely hard this weekend and the goalies, for whatever reason, they've been outstanding all year and this weekend their standard wasn't good enough. It made tonight's game look like a character win when it should've probably been an easier win."
UMass Lowell opened the scoring midway through the first when Reid Stefanson collected the puck off a turnover by the Minutemen and fed it up the boards to Anthony Baxter who found Chase Blackmun in the high slot for the tally through traffic at 10:52.
In the second period, UMass responded by scoring three times in a span of 3 minutes, 13 seconds to swing its fortunes for a 3-1 advantage. The flurry started with senior Jake McLaughlin rifling a shot from the blueline from sophomore Anthony Del Gaizo and Jake Gaudet past a screened Tyler Wall at the 6:14 mark.
Moments later, Leonard potted his first of the night, depositing a River Hawks' turnover into the back of the UMass Lowell net, cleaning up his own rebound at 6:27.
Freshman Reed Lebster then added his eighth of the year 9:27 into the stanza, knocking in a loose puck at the doorstep off a rebound from Gaudet and freshman Zac Jones.
The River Hawks clawed back in the third, though, converting with John McDonald converting on their first power play of the night from Seth Barton just 24 seconds into the third.
Colin O'Neill took an outlet pass from Brian Chambers and Connor Sodergren and scored on the rush to pull UMass Lowell level with the Minutemen, 3-3, at the 8:31 mark.
With less than five minutes to go in regulation, however, Leonard took over for UMass, turning on the jets, splitting the River Hawks' defensemen and roofing the go-ahead goal over Wall at 16:25. Senior Jack Suter and sophomore Ty Farmer earned the assists on the play.
Leonard later added a diving empty net goal to complete his hat trick in the closing seconds, beating a UMass Lowell player to the puck down the ice after senior Niko Hildenbrand cleared it from the defensive zone.
For a second time this weekend UMass heavily out-shot the River Hawks, 50-18, and were 0-for-5 on the power play, while UMass Lowell was 1-for-2 with the man advantage. The Minutemen also dominated over the faceoff dots, winning 42 of 59 draws (71.2%), led by 14-for-17 (82.4%) and 12-for-16 (75%) efforts from Suter and Gaudet, respectively.
Matt Murray had 15 saves on the night and collected his third assist of the season on the empty net goal, while Wall amassed 45 for the River Hawks.
With his three-goal performance, Leonard took over the national lead in goals as he now has 24 on the season, which also set UMass records for most goals scored in a season in the program's Hockey East era (tied for fifth all-time), most goals scored in Hockey East play in a season (18), tied the program's single-season record for game-winning goals (5) and took over sole possession of the program's career game-winning goals record (9).
The Minutemen will return to action next Friday, February, 28, when the squad will travel to Hartford to take on UConn at 7:05 p.m.