NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- Goal scoring is contagious. And, so too is not scoring.
Early on in the season, it had been the latter for new head coach Greg Carvel’s Massachusetts Minutemen.
Friday night at Merrimack College’s Lawler Rink though, the tide turned.
UMass scored three straight goals in the first period and never looked back as sophomore Nic Renyard made 40 saves en route to a 3-1 win, the first on the road this season and in Hockey East play under Carvel.
“Our biggest issue has been not being ready to play games,” Carvel said. “It was a focus all week and all day today. I wasn’t happy with our pregame skate and our warmup, so we were all over them. Apparently it worked. But we played well and pucks were taking good bounces for us early.”
The Minutemen got off to a roaring start in the first, scoring three unanswered goals in a period for the first time this season. Especially on the road, it was an important step.
Junior Anthony Petrella was first on the board at the 4:01 marker, tipping home sophomore defenseman William Lagesson’s shot from just outside the crease.
Lagesson took the wrist shot from the right side, but Petrella ultimately got his stick on the puck at the top of Merrimack goaltender Drew Vogler’s crease for his second goal of the season.
Freshman defenseman Shane Bear doubled the UMass lead with a power-play tally at 9:38, taking sophomore Austin Plevy’s perfect feed for a one-time shot from the high slot.
“It was a really good play by Austin. He kind of put it on a tee for me,” Bear said. “I was standing right there in the slot, and he somehow found a way to get it to me. As a defenseman, you don’t get many chances like that right in the slot, so I made sure I beared down and got as much on it as I could.”
After Bear scored the second goal of his collegiate career, Jonny Lazarus netted his third to give the Minutemen a commanding advantage at the 11:56 mark. With numbers in transition, Lazarus drove to the net without an assist and lifted his own rebound over Vogler’s glove.
“A real good start. We needed that,” Carvel said. “Scoring the first goal of the game is always important, and I was real proud of our guys. I thought we played pretty well for 60 minutes.”
Merrimack held a 41-20 shot advantage in the contest, managing its lone goal just 1:25 into the second period. Sophomore Derek Petti drove the net hard, taking senior Chris LeBlanc’s feed to the bottom of the left circle where he ripped his first goal of the season just inside Renyard’s post.
“You can’t spot an opponent a three-goal lead, but I thought we played well for large stretches of the game,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. “(Renyard) made some nice saves. We’ve got to be better at crucial times in the game, and maybe the mistakes we made can’t be as big as they were early.”
Merrimack held a 17-1 shooting edge in the third and wound up reaching the 40-shot mark for the second time in three games, although Carvel was happy with his team’s effort from the opening puck drop in UMass’ first win in North Andover since 2008.
“I didn’t feel like they were coming at us in waves,” Carvel said. “I thought we played well the whole game. … That’s the first time this year I’ve felt, mentally, we were a pretty steady group for 60 minutes. Even after they scored their goal, I don’t think there was any lag in our game.”
Renyard stopped 40 shots in the first win of his sophomore season for the Minutemen, 17 of which came in the final frame. Entering the night, the British Columbia native had started just two of thhad a .885 save percentage and 4.54 goals against average.
“He had to make a lot of saves in tight, and he’s pretty good at that. He’s a solid goalie, a big body. I thought he did a good job of keeping the puck in front of him. Then, it’s just a matter of whether or not it’s going to hit him.”