In first start since January, UMass goalie Murray’s solid performance eases his coach’s concerns

Matt Murray stopped 36 shots for UMass on Thursday (photo: Jim Rosvold).

PITTSBURGH — After Wednesday’s practice at the Frozen Four, UMass coach Greg Carvel expressed confidence in his team to be able to step up despite the loss of four players to COVID protocol, forwards Carson Gicewicz and Jerry Harding and goaltenders Filip Lindberg and Henry Graham.

Early Friday morning after UMass’ 3-2 overtime win over Minnesota Duluth, Carvel admitted that goaltending actually was an area of concern going into Thursday’s national semifinal.

Not that Matt Murray isn’t a good goalie, said Carvel, but that he hadn’t played since Jan. 18, a weekend of home-and-home losses to Boston University, including one in overtime.

“It’s a tough situation,” said Carvel. “When you don’t have a live game, it’s hard. To be honest, that was the only thing I was worried about, losing a couple of players up front, we can overcome that.”

Murray said he has stayed ready, despite the lack of game time.

“I think ever since my last game I’ve really made sure to treat practices as games and give it everything I have every single day,” said Murray. “And I think that was able to help me put my best foot forward today and it felt natural.

“It felt great to be back in net,” Murray added, barely holding back a smile.

“I give him a lot of credit for how well he’s practiced and his effort and his attitude,” Carvel said.

Murray, who was 9-3-0 with a .913 save percentage and a 2.01 goals-against average during the regular season, bested both numbers with 36 saves on 38 shots (.974) and a 1.61 GAA.

And he withstood an onslaught of shots, especially during the first two periods when UMass wasn’t playing well in Carvel’s eyes.

“I was kind of in the zone. It was going well for me all game. I felt great,” said Murray, who expressed some pride in the victory.

“Yeah, it’s a great feeling,” he said. “Obviously playing hockey is the best thing to do in the world. And it’s great to have such an amazing group of guys to share that kind of feeling with.”

During the postgame news conference, UMass announced that all but Harding who were unavailable Thursday will travel to Pittsburgh on Friday.

Though no decision has been announced on who will start in goal on Saturday, Murray is nevertheless pleased to have Lindberg and Graham return.

“I’m just happy to get the band back together,” said Murray of his fellow goaltenders. “Steigs (student equipment manager Zac Steigmeyer, who was the backup goalie for Thursday’s game) has been a great guy, filling up the extra goalie role. But us three have some really good chemistry.

“And obviously missing Carson is a big presence and everything,” said Murray about the team’s leading goal scorer.

“I think it’s going to be nothing but hard work and smiles when everyone comes back tomorrow.”