UMass hockey: Boston College locks down Minutemen, pulls away for 5-1 victory in front of packed Mullins Center (PHOTOS)

UMass forwards Kenny Connors (17) and Jack Musa (9) fight for the puck in front of the Boston College net in the third period Friday night at the Mullins Center. The visiting Eagles picked up a 5-1 victory in front of a packed house in Amherst. The teams will play against on Sunday in Chestnut Hill.

UMass forwards Kenny Connors (17) and Jack Musa (9) fight for the puck in front of the Boston College net in the third period Friday night at the Mullins Center. The visiting Eagles picked up a 5-1 victory in front of a packed house in Amherst. The teams will play against on Sunday in Chestnut Hill. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Umass players celebrate a second period goal against Boston College on Friday night at the Mullins Center.

Umass players celebrate a second period goal against Boston College on Friday night at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass fans Jimmy Whelan, left, and Noah Glickman cheer during the third period against Boston College on Friday night at the Mullins Center.

UMass fans Jimmy Whelan, left, and Noah Glickman cheer during the third period against Boston College on Friday night at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass defender Scott Morrow (23) knocks Boston College’s Oskar Jellvik (21) into the boards in the second period Friday night at the Mullins Center.

UMass defender Scott Morrow (23) knocks Boston College’s Oskar Jellvik (21) into the boards in the second period Friday night at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass defenders Elliott McDermott (24) and Liam Gorman (20) fend off the attack from Boston College’s Drew Fortescue (5) in the second period Friday night at the Mullins Center.

UMass defenders Elliott McDermott (24) and Liam Gorman (20) fend off the attack from Boston College’s Drew Fortescue (5) in the second period Friday night at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass defender Owen Murray (26) takes possession from Boston College’s Colby Ambrosio (11) in the second period Friday night at the Mullins Center.

UMass defender Owen Murray (26) takes possession from Boston College’s Colby Ambrosio (11) in the second period Friday night at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass forward Cole O'Hara (19) fights for the puck in front of the Boston College net in the first period Friday night at the Mullins Center.

UMass forward Cole O'Hara (19) fights for the puck in front of the Boston College net in the first period Friday night at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

UMass fans cheer in the second period against Boston College on Friday night at the Mullins Center.

UMass fans cheer in the second period against Boston College on Friday night at the Mullins Center. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 02-17-2024 12:13 AM

AMHERST — Late in the third period, Boston College freshman Ryan Leonard found himself free in the attacking zone, skating into the slot with nobody between he and UMass goalie Michael Hrabal.

Leonard loaded up and snapped a wrist shot into the top right corner of the net to seal the Eagles’ 5-1 win over the Minutemen on Friday night at the Mullins Center in the two teams’ first of two meetings this weekend.

Earlier in the game, Leonard dashed into the attacking third of the ice with Boston College on a power play. After having nothing going on the man-advantage, he took matters into his own hands. He weaved through UMass’ defense and ripped a shot by Hrabal’s right leg and in.

Leonard, an Amherst native, couldn’t have dreamed of a better homecoming. The loud boos that started the night quickly faded with each impressive move he flashed and each puck he sent by Hrabal. His two goals in his first career game at the Mullins Center paced the top-ranked Eagles in a battle of Hockey East heavyweights.

“He was very excited to play here,” Boston College head coach Greg Brown said. “It was great to see him score; the power-play goal, we had nothing going on our first couple power plays at all, so we were pretty fortunate. He came through the neutral zone with speed, made a good move through and it was a great shot off the post and in.”

While each of the three big screens at Mullins read 5-1 at the end of the night, everybody watching felt the game was much closer – including the two head coaches. Boston College’s first two goals – both credited to Eagles leading scorer Cutter Gauthier – each came off multiple deflections where Hrabal never truly got a good look at the puck. Brown admitted his team was on the fortunate side of a few puck bounces on Friday.

UMass, on the other hand, was not.

The Minutemen saw several shot attempts rocket off the post, and also watched multiple times as the puck bounced harmlessly in front of the crease with nobody able to get a clean stick on it. The several breaks the Eagles got weren’t returned to UMass, but that’s exactly what makes Boston College the highest scoring team in the league.

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“It wasn’t our best game, but I thought we played well enough [to win],” Carvel said. “Two fluke goals against are tough against a high-flying offensive team. You know they’re gonna get a fair number of Grade A [chances], but I thought we had a fair number of Grade A’s. We just didn’t put ours in. It’s unfortunate. It’s a game we could’ve had, but I guess the puck just wasn’t bouncing our way tonight.”

After the first of Gauthier’s two unorthodox goals put the Eagles ahead 1-0 (the score after one period), Lucas Mercuri knotted things up with three seconds left on a UMass power play. A little over six minutes into the second frame, it seemed the Minutemen were going to come away empty handed on special teams for the 14th straight man-advantage situation.

Instead, Cole O’Hara found Mercuri off to the side of the net. He moved into better position, and squeezed a short-side point-blank goal past Boston College’s Jacob Fowler to tie it at one apiece.

“Our power-play unit has been doing a good job in practice, and we’re just trying to generate some chances,” Mercuri said. “[O’Hara] made a really nice play, and I was just lucky enough to find the back of the net. Glad it squeaked in.”

From there, not much went right for UMass. Gauthier added his second goal just two minutes later, then Leonard cashed in one of his two tallies with 2:39 remaining to give the Eagles all the momentum heading into the third – a period that was scoreless until Leonard’s second goal over 16 minutes in.

Carvel felt his team certainly played well enough to knock off the No. 1 team in the country, and the Minutemen’s advantages in shots (26-25) and scoring chances backed that up. But UMass never regained its groove after the early bad breaks.

“I think that was the game,” Carvel said of the opposition’s first two goals. “I thought it was an even game, they get some flukes, then two of their better players finish their chances. Leonard, he gets his chances he’s gonna score. We had similar chances, and we don’t score. Again, we weren’t perfect. But I thought we played a pretty good game.”

Andre Gasseau added an empty-net goal to give Boston College the 5-1 victory on the road in what was a physical hockey game as expected between the in-state rivals.

Attendance stood at a near-sellout mark of 8,412, which marks the program’s third consecutive game of at least 6,000 fans. That hasn’t happened since 2012.

UMass (16-8-3) gets another crack at the nation’s best, this time on their ice as the Minutemen travel to Chestnut Hill to battle Boston College on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Conte Forum.