AMHERST, Mass. — Playing in a conference where every game counts, UMass-Amherst realizes that it needs to take advantage of every opportunity that it gets to earn two points.
As evidenced throughout Hockey East in recent years, an early-season loss against a weaker opponent could come back to haunt a team down the stretch. Needless to say, the Minutemen wanted to take care of business right from the start in Friday night’s conference opener with Merrimack.
UMass-Amherst dominated the play for the majority of the 60 minutes, and thanks to a goal and an assist from both senior captain Jeff Turner and freshman winger Scott Horvath, the Minutemen were able to record a 3-0 win over the Warriors at the William D. Mullins Center.
That’s not to mention the play of Minutemen goaltender Markus Helanen, who stopped 31 shots to preserve UMass’ first victory of the season. The shutout was the first of his career inside the Hockey East conference.
“This was our home Hockey East opener, a chance to show ourselves,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “This is what we’ve been working toward, the start of the Hockey East season. This was a good start for us tonight [inside the league].”
The Minutemen (1-2-1, 1-0 Hockey East) received first-period goals from freshman Thomas Pock and Turner to grab an early two-goal lead. The former of the tallies marked the first time this season that UMass struck first in a game.
“Getting those two goals, that was really big for us,” Turner said. “With the way that we’ve played the past couple of years, a team who has traditionally been a defensive one, it was good for us to get those goals. It got the wheels rolling for us.”
Pock opened the scoring at the 9:11 mark of the first period with his third goal of the season. The rookie center stationed himself in the slot, and then gathered a pass from Gates before tucking it under a fallen Tom Welby.
Turner followed with his first goal of the year just under two minutes later. UMass capitalized off a turnover by the Merrimack defense in the neutral zone, springing the senior center into the Warriors end. From there, the Saginaw, Mich., native fired a wrist shot that went under the right arm of the Warriors netminder to double the lead for the Minutemen.
Meanwhile, Helanen showed flashes of brilliance with a host of sprawling saves between the pipes. Time after time, he left Merrimack players skating back to the bench either with their heads down or smacking their sticks up against the boards in frustration.
“It was definitely nice to get a shutout tonight, but the most important thing is getting a win for our team,” Helanen said. “Like coach told us in the locker room after the game, we just took two points from them, and they can never get those back. That’s a huge thing for us.”
Merrimack coach Chris Serino was also quick to point out the significance of the game within the league standings, even if it only was the conference opener for both teams.
“We can’t afford to let these games slip by us,” he said. “A point here or there down the stretch, it could be the difference in making the playoffs and not making the playoffs.”
Rookie Scott Horvath netted his second goal of the season late in the second period to close out the scoring. Welby stopped Turner’s original shot, but Horvath was right on the doorstep to tuck the rebound under the Warriors goalie.
With the loss, Merrimack fell to 2-2-1 on the season, 0-1 in Hockey East. The Warriors return to the ice on Saturday to face Union, while UMass will take on No. 2 ranked Boston College at Conte Forum on Sunday.