Amherst, MA – A festive and historic night on The University of Massachusetts-Amherst campus quickly turned sour as the Minutemen fell behind the Minnesota State Mavericks early and never recovered. Senior goaltender Dryden McKay turned back 18 shots, and Nathan Smith notched two assists in the Mavericks 2-0 win. The 8,412 in attendance at the Mullins Center may have come away disappointed in the game’s result, but they will always have the newly raised 2021 NCAA Championship banner and the hardware that goes with it.
The Minutemen opened the 2021-22 campaign with high hopes; defending National Champs, a Number One ranking, the banner ceremony, and playing in front of a home crowd for the first time in 18 months, but it didn’t take long for the hosts to realize this is a new year.
“I spent most of the summer worrying that this would happen,” said Minutemen coach Greg Carvel. “Very good team, much hungrier team, a team that paid much more attention to detail. We have a lot of new players on our team that need to catch up to speed. We got what we deserved tonight.”
“It was awesome, one of the highlights, maybe the highlight of my hockey career,” said Carvel when asked about the banner ceremony. But the overall tone of the coach was one of disappointment.
“No excuses, we didn’t deserve to win… It was quite embarrassing,” added Carvel.
Ten seconds into the opening, the Minutemen were whistled for Interference when defenseman Matthew Kessel elbowed a Maverick player off the face-off. Forty-five seconds later, the Minutemen were trailing as senior Reggie Lutz beat Matt Murray short-side on the post to quick the crowd.
The Minutemen responded with physical play, notably a big hit by Josh Lopina on Josh Krajnik along the boards. Kessel followed that hit up with a hip check that sent a Maverick player end over end.
Massachusetts drew an Interference call on the Mavericks Brenden Olsen at 11:20 but could not muster any offensive spark on the power play. In total, the Minutemen registered only one shot on goal in the first period while giving up seven.
The Mavericks had an early power play in the second when Minutemen forward Eric Faith was sent off for interference after colliding with the Mavericks McKay at the side of the net. The Minutemen had a Lopina and Bobby Trivigno two-on-one bid thwarted by McKay while on the penalty kill.
The Mavericks continued to carry play while the Minutemen showed signs of life in the offensive zone. McKay was solid whenever UMass was able to land a shot on goal.
Murray (28 saves) was equally spectacular as he kept the Minutemen within striking distance. None more so than when Olsen was left alone in front of a Minuteman turnover at the blueline.
Through the first two periods, the Mavericks outshot the Minutemen 23-8 while winning the face-off battle 22-15.
The third period belonged to the hosts as UMass peppered McKay to even up the score, but the senior from Downers Grove, Il. saw the puck well.
In desperation, the Minutemen fired ten shots on goal, while the Mavericks blocked just as many to keep the score 1-0. At 15:16, Julian Napravnik made it 2-0 Mavericks when he banged in a loose puck behind Murray. The UMass goalie made the initial save on a Smith shot from the right circle, but the puck squirted out from under the goalie’s pads. Napravnik was alone on the far post to tap in the puck to seal the deal for the Mavericks.
“You’re just hoping to get through the first ten minutes,” said Mavericks coach Mike Hastings. “I thought we had a good first period, we didn’t create a lot of our offense, but we were fortunate to score a power-play goal early. That allowed us to play with a lead so that crowd didn’t get into the game. Then we kind of held on.”
The two teams square off again on Sunday at 4:00 pm on the UMass campus.