Frozen Four: UMass hockey will face St. Cloud State for national championship

  • A puck shot by Massachusetts' Zac Jones whizzes past Jake Gaudet (18) and Minnesota Duluth goaltender Zach Stejskal for a goal during the first period of an NCAA men's Frozen Four hockey semifinal in Pittsburgh, Thursday, April 8, 2021. AP

  • Minnesota Duluth coach Scott Alan Sandelin, left, greets Massachusetts coach Greg Carvel after an NCAA men's Frozen Four hockey semifinal in Pittsburgh, early Friday, April 9, 2021. Massachusetts won 3-2 and will face St. Cloud State in the championship game Saturday. AP

  • Massachusetts' Bobby Trivigno (8) sends the puck past Minnesota Duluth goaltender Zach Stejskal (35), before Garrett Wait, not seen, knocked it in for an overtime goal in an NCAA men's Frozen Four hockey semifinal in Pittsburgh, early Friday, April 9, 2021. Massachusetts won 3-2 and will face St. Cloud State in the championship game Saturday. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic) AP

  • Massachusetts’ Garrett Wait (12) celebrates after scoring against Minnesota Duluth during overtime in an NCAA men’s Frozen Four semifinal in Pittsburgh, early Friday. Massachusetts won 3-2 and will face St. Cloud State in the championship game Saturday. AP

Staff Writer
Published: 4/9/2021 9:10:11 PM

PITTSBURGH — Twenty one programs have hoisted college hockey’s national championship trophy. After UMass meets St. Cloud State at 7 p.m. Saturday at PPG Paints Arena, the list will grow to 22.

The Minutemen had an opportunity to join the exclusive club in 2019 but fell to Minnesota Duluth, which claimed its third title and second in a row. UMass gained another shot by taking out the Bulldogs in Thursday’s national semifinal.

“It would be a tremendous accomplishment. Everything comes back to our culture,” UMass junior Anthony Del Gaizo said. “It’s not just about the 28 guys we have, it’s about the guys that we played with before, our alumni who are still in touch with us. It’s the entire UMass family. And it is such a tremendous program to be a part of.”

Greg Carvel and his staff built the program from ground zero. UMass finished last in Hockey East the two seasons before he arrived as well as his first year in 2016-17. By Year 3, the Minutemen were the No. 1 team in the country and made their first Frozen Four. They’ve been a top-10 team ever since.

“Us current players are trying to keep that legacy going and make history,” sophomore Zac Jones said. “To be part of the team that won Hockey East this year, that would be another accomlishment for us. We have the group to do it.”

That group has a chance to be whole when the Minutemen take the ice Saturday. Three of the four players that stayed in Amherst due to COVID-19 protocols traveled to Pittsburgh on Thursday: starting goalie Filip Lindberg, leading goal scorer Carson Gicewicz and backup goalie Henry Graham. They will remain sequestered from the rest of the team until they clear testing protocols (two confirmed negative tests on consecutive days) Friday and Saturday before the game.

“Until I’ve seen them, I won’t make a decision on anything,” Carvel said.

Lindberg started UMass’ previous 12 games, but senior Matt Murray backstopped the Minutemen against Minnesota Duluth in the semifinal.

Because of how late the game against the Bulldogs lasted, UMass didn’t have much opportunity to study its opponent. The Huskies are a relatively unfamiliar opponent. The Minutemen have played them two times but not since 2002. St. Cloud State won both of those games. This is a different UMass team, though.

The Minutemen are ranked among the best defenses and special teams units in the nation. They rank second in goals against and penalty killing percentage. UMass hasn’t allowed a power play goal all NCAA Tournament.

These are the top two scoring teams in the postseason. St. Cloud has averaged five goals per game, while UMass puts away four per game. They’re also two of the top three defenses: UMass has allowed four goals in four games with a shutout in the regional final. The Huskies have given up 2.3 per contest.

“I think it’s going to be two teams with two similar game plans. You saw where they scored both their goals last night, within two feet of the net,” St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson said. “You can tell that they are driven to get there, they’re very aggressive offensively to get to the net. They’re a pressure team and a team that takes pucks to the dirty areas quick.”

The Huskies will provide a wrinkle that UMass rarely encounters: a 1-2-1 defensive system that traps in the neutral zone.

“Usually teams are coming pretty aggressively at you. They’re playing a style that’s sit back, let you make mistakes and counter,” Carvel said. “We haven’t seen that a lot. We’ll have to be ready for it, or we’ll pay the price in transition offense.”

St. Cloud State was the No. 2 seed in the Northeast Regional. The Huskies took out Boston University and Boston College to reach the Frozen Four, their second all time (2013). They’d never played in a national championship game prior to this year.

When the initial USCHO Top 20 rankings were released, St. Cloud State’s players hung the list in their locker room because they weren’t on it.

“That’s been the motto of this team. We want to prove people wrong, right until the last day,” Larson said.

The Huskies built a 3-1 lead 2 minutes, 40 seconds into their semifinal against Minnesota State before the Mavericks rallied with three consecutive goals to pull ahead. Joe Molenaar tied the game once again halfway through the third, and Nolan Walker potted the winner with 53 seconds left.

St. Cloud State has overcome deficits in every game its played in the NCAA Tournament.

“We don't give up,” Walker said. “We always find a way to bounce back.”

UMass showed a similar elasticity against the Bulldogs. It just took some prodding from Carvel to find what the Minutemen needed to consummate the comeback.

“The way we won that game was monumental for our team. We were on the ropes a bit after the first two periods. Nobody has better pre-period speeches than coach. He got us fired up,” Del Gaizo said. “We were at a standstill there, and it’s bigger than us. It’s about our culture and about UMass hockey. He hit that home for us. We didn’t want that to be our last period of the year.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

Sign up for our free email updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Headlines
Daily Hampshire Gazette Contests & Promotions
Daily Hampshire Gazette Evening Top Reads
Daily Hampshire Gazette Breaking News
Daily Hampshire Gazette Obits
Daily Hampshire Gazette Sports
Daily Hampshire Gazette PM Updates
Daily Hampshire Gazette Weekly Top Stories
Valley Advocate Newsletter
Daily Hampshire Gazette Dining & Entertainment


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

23 Service Center Road
Northampton, MA 01060


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy