Marc Del Gaizo slapshot sends UMass to national championship game

  • Massachusetts defenseman Marc Del Gaizo (2) and Denver defenseman Griffin Mendel (4) battle behind the net during the third period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four NCAA mens college hockey tournament Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • Massachusetts defenseman Cale Makar (16) controls the puck during the second period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four NCAA mens college hockey tournament against Denver Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • Denver goalie Filip Larsson (30) makes a save during the third period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four NCAA mens college hockey tournament against Massachusetts Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • Denver forward Cole Guttman (19) celebrates his goal during the third period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four NCAA mens college hockey tournament against Massachusetts Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • Denver forward Cole Guttman (19) celebrates his goal during the third period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four NCAA mens college hockey tournament against Massachusetts Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • UMass forward Bobby Trivigno celebrates his goal during the first period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four against Denver, Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. UMass won 4-3 in overtime. Visit gazettenet.com for more coverage. AP

  • Massachusetts goalie Filip Lindberg (35) and defenseman TY Farmer (3) stop Denver forward Liam Finlay (13) during the second period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four NCAA mens college hockey tournament Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • Denver forward Ian Mitchell (15) is helped off the ice during the second period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four NCAA mens college hockey tournament against Massachusetts Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • Massachusetts forward Jake Gaudet (18) looks to shoot on Denver goalie Filip Larsson (30) during the second period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four NCAA mens college hockey tournament Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • Massachusetts goalie Filip Lindberg (35) stops Denver forward Kohen Olischefski (12) during the second period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four NCAA mens college hockey tournament Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • UMass forward John Leonard, left, and Denver forward Kyle Mayhew skate during the first period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four, Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. AP

  • UMass goalie Filip Lindberg, right, makes a save during the first period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four against Denver, Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. AP

  • Denver forward Kohen Olischefski (12) celebrates his goal during the first period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four NCAA mens college hockey tournament against Massachusetts Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • UMass’ Mitchell Chaffee, left, and Cale Makar, center, celebrate a goal during the first period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four against Denver, Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. AP

  • Massachusetts teammates celebrate a 4-3 victory over Denver following the overtime period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four NCAA mens college hockey tournament Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • UMass celebrates a 4-3 victory over Denver in overtime in the semifinals of the Frozen Four, Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. Visit gazettenet.com for more coverage and photos. AP

  • Massachusetts players shake hands with Denver forward Cole Guttman (19) following the overtime period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four NCAA mens college hockey tournament Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • Massachusetts goalie Filip Lindberg (35) stops Denver forward Jarid Lukosevicius (14) during the overtime period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four NCAA mens college hockey tournament Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • Massachusetts teammates celebrate a 4-3 victory following the overtime period in the semifinals of the Frozen Four NCAA mens college hockey tournament against Denver Thursday, April 11, 2019, in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes) Jeffrey T. Barnes

  • Jake Gaudet, of UMass, celebrates after the Minutemen beat Denver 4-3 in overtime in the Frozen Four semifinal, early Friday morning in Buffalo, N.Y. UMass will face Minnesota-Duluth in the championship on Saturday. FOR THE GAZETTE/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

  • George Mika, left, and goalie Matt Murray, celebrate after the Minutemen beat Denver 4-3 in overtime in the Frozen Four semifinal, early Friday morning in Buffalo, N.Y. UMass will face Minnesota-Duluth in the championship on Saturday. FOR THE GAZETTE/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

  • UMass defenseman Marc Del Gaizo skates between Denver players during the Frozen Four semifinal, Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. FOR THE GAZETTE/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

  • UMass defenseman Cale Makar, center, skates against Denver during the Frozen Four semifinal, Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. FOR THE GAZETTE/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

  • UMass alumni celebrate in the stands after UMass beat Denver 4-3 in overtime in the Frozen Four semifinal, early Friday morning in Buffalo, N.Y. FOR THE GAZETTE/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

  • UMass forward John Leonard shouts in celebration after scoring against Denver in Frozen Four semifinals, Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. FOR THE GAZETTE/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

  • UMass forward John Leonard shouts in celebration after scoring against Denver in Frozen Four semifinals, Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. FOR THE GAZETTE/CAROLINE O’CONNOR

Staff Writer
Published: 4/12/2019 2:15:38 AM

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Marc Del Gaizo is not known for his one-timer.

The freshman defenseman is far better when he has time to set up a slap shot or just send a wrist shot from the blue line toward the goal. Except Oliver Chau’s feed to him was almost too perfect and he had no choice but to let one rip.

The shot he ended up hammering from just inside the left faceoff circle with 4:42 remaining in the first overtime period left his stick on a mission. The puck soared through the air and had already passed Denver’s Filip Larsson when he stuck up his glove in a futile attempt to stop it.

In a season full of iconic moments for UMass, Del Gaizo added another hallmark with his blast, lifting the Minutemen to a 4-3 win over Denver in the national semifinals early Friday morning. For the first time in program history, the Minutemen will play for a national championship, squaring off with defending champion Minnesota Duluth on Saturday at 8 p.m. for the title.

“Probably the coolest moment of my life,” Del Gaizo said with the smile still beaming from his face. “Right now seems like I’m dreaming, but we’re off to the national championship, so that’s all that matters.”

Del Gaizo’s shining moment could have happened on his previous shift of overtime, too, when he was standing all alone at the blue line while the Minutemen (31-9-0) worked their cycle down low. No one seemed to see him waiting for a pass and UMass eventually had its attempts rebuffed and Denver sent play the other way.

It was a similar situation when Del Gaizo finally received the pass that led to the game-winning goal. Chau and Jake Gaudet were working a two-man cycle to keep the puck behind the net. Chau eventually spun away from his defender into open space and saucered the pass back toward the point with his backhand.

All Del Gaizo had to do was make contact with the pass and send the puck hurtling through the air into the net.

“Chauzy put it on a tee for me,” Del Gaizo said. “Teed off on it, perfect pass, right in my wheelhouse, perfect speed. Just got a hold of it and it went in.”

Del Gaizo’s blast saved UMass from an offseason of what ifs after an uncharacteristically poor third period. The Minutemen entered the game 23-0-0 when leading after two periods and had a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes against the Pioneers (24-12-5). It seemed like a recipe for UMass to bleed out the game and punch its spot in the national championship game.

Instead, the Minutemen spent most of the first half of the period on the penalty kill, and despite thwarting all three Denver power plays, it seemed to take some wind out of their sail. Shortly after killing off the third penalty, UMass failed to clear the zone and allowed the Pioneers to reorganize. They were able to work some pressure in front of Filip Lindberg that screened him enough for Cole Guttman to go top shelf to cut the deficit to one.

A similarly poor clearing attempt with less than five minutes left caused a scramble in front. As UMass tried to adjust to the sudden change in direction, the puck squirted free for Guttman to poke it past Lindberg to tie the game. Denver had several other good chances to win the game in the final moments, but Lindberg made a pair of key saves as part of his 37-stop effort.

This was on top of the fact UMass played the final two-plus periods without a pair of key forwards. Captain Niko Hildenbrand was assessed a game misconduct for a hit to the head just 6:24 into the game. Then late in the second period, sophomore Mitchell Chaffee — the team’s leading scorer with 17 goals — was penalized for a hit to the head and also given a game misconduct.

“(In) overtime, we were down, we lost two players, two forwards, playing three lines,” coach Greg Carvel said. “We went deep into that overtime period. We played three lines for almost two periods, and the kids dug deep, once again, proved the resiliency, proved the culture that we have on our team is our strength and carries us, and it did again (Thursday).”

Denver capitalized on the five-minute major penalty to Hildenbrand on a scramble in front of the net that featured Lindberg and junior defenseman Jake McLaughlin on the ice in the crease sprawled out trying to stop the puck. Both made at least one save on the Pioneers’ forwards before Kohen Olischefski finally scooped his shot into the net.

But then the Pioneers gave the Minutemen a chance to roll out their vaunted power play and it turned into a nightmare for Denver. Bobby Trivigno deflected home a shot-pass from Jacob Pritchard on a 5-on-3 advantage to tie the game. Less than 90 seconds later, Chaffee scored his 18th goal of the season on another 5-on-3. It took only 18 seconds for Amherst native John Leonard to make it 3-1, picking the top corner over Larsson for three power-play goals in 1:41.

“I think everyone knows special teams can win you games,” sophomore defenseman Cale Makar said. “We were able to capitalize on a few opportunities the first period. We just kind of went from there.”

Josh Walfish can be reached at jwalfish@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshWalfishDHG. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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