Hockey East tournament: UMass wide awake ahead of quarterfinal vs. Northeastern

  • UMass is chasing its first ever Hockey East crown as the No. 3 seed. The Minutemen reached the semifinals the last time the tournament was held in 2019. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass junior forward Bobby Trivigno is tied for second in Hockey East with 24 points. He’s scored eight goals with 16 assists, as the Minutemen open the conference championships Sunday against Northeastern. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • Junior goalie Filip Lindberg is one of just 10 players on UMass’ roster with Hockey East tournament experience after last year’s event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Minutemen hit the ice against Northeastern on Sunday. CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/12/2021 5:38:01 PM

Losing to Maine to close the regular season showed the UMass hockey team the dangers one game presents.

The Minutemen open the newly single-elimination Hockey East Championships on Sunday, when they host Northeastern at 4:30 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

No. 7 UMass (13-5-4) is the tournament’s third seed. The opportunity existed to clinch the No. 2 seed and home ice in the semifinals against the Black Bears, but the Minutemen fell in a shootout. It technically counts as a tie in the scorebook, but after letting a two-goal lead slip away in the third period and falling in a shootout, UMass coach Greg Carvel called it a loss.

“I hope the Maine game was a wake up call that we can’t come in less than 100 percent and think we’re going to win the game,” he said. “The Maine game was very frustrating for me, but hopefully it wakes us up as we go into the playoffs.”

The result ended a four-game winning streak wrapped around a two-week pause due to increased COVID-19 cases on campus, not any in the UMass program. The Minutemen haven’t lost since Boston University took them down in overtime Jan. 18 and haven’t fallen in regulation since the previous game Jan. 17.

Northeastern (9-8-3), the sixth seed and ranked 20th nationally, ended the regular season with a loss against top-seeded Boston College. The Huskies haven’t won since blanking UMass Lowell on Feb. 20.

Both teams received a bye into the quarterfinals after Merrimack opted out of the rest of the season due to COVID-19 protocols. Originally only the top five teams earned a bye, so UMass would have awaited the third-lowest remaining seed after Wednesday’s first round game. Instead, the Minutemen had a full week to prepare for the Huskies.

They’ve moved away from a heavy pre-scout this season because of the uncertainty of opponents on a weekly basis, but Carvel will devise a more detailed game plan for Northeastern.

“We’ve got practice time to really focus in on parts of our game we want to execute really well,” he said. “That’s what we’re supposed to do this time of the year with that much time on our hands. I would be foolish not to.”

It will be the teams’ third meeting this season. UMass swept the home-and-home series to start the new year.

Northeastern brings both a middling offense (fourth in Hockey East at 3.4 goals per game) and defense (sixth at 3.08 goals per game. However, the Huskies boast the conference’s best power play, converting 27.2 percent of their opportunities.

Senior forward Zach Solow is tied for third in Hockey East scoring with 24 points on 11 goals.

“They’re a skilled team, they have good defensemen that move the puck well, and their forwards are pretty crafty,” UMass junior forward Bobby Trivigno said. “It’s important that we have god D-zone coverage staying tight to our guys and force turnovers when we see opportunities.”

The Minutemen will counter with Hockey East’s best penalty kill (91.7 percent), which also ranks third nationally. That’s helped UMass allow the fewest goals per game in the conference (1.91).

With a win, UMass will advance to the semifinals for the second straight Hockey East tournament. They lost to BC in their most recent trip to TD Garden in 2019, and last year’s tournament was canceled before it began due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are no games at the Garden in 2021. The higher seed will host every contest, and each round will be re-seeded so the highest remaining seed always plays the lowest remaining on down. That means the Minutemen get to welcome the Huskies to the Mullins Center’s Olympic-sized ice sheet, which is 15 feet wider than the NHL-sized rinks many teams call home.

“It’s nice being on a bigger sheet playing against teams who aren’t used to being on that sheet,” UMass junior Marc Del Gaizo said. “It’s huge having home ice against a team like Northeastern. Hopefully we can capitalize on it and use it to our advantage.”

UMass has never won the Hockey East tournament title. The Minutemen’s only conference tournament championships came in the ECAC 2 in 1972. An automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament is on the line. UMass is likely headed there no matter what happens, but a strong showing in the conference tournament would mean a higher seed closer to home.

Only 10 players remain from the 2018-19 team with Hockey East experience. Some are transfers from major programs like Eric Faith, but the Minutemen’s leaders have tried to instill the importance of the upcoming games and what it takes to win them.

“Yes it’s another hockey game, but everything’s elevated. It’s a little quicker, a little harder. It’s important for  older guys who have that experience to make sure the guys who haven’t played are ready,” Trivigno said “It’s important that we capitalize on this opportunity we have in front of us.”

HOCKEY EAST AWARDS – Five Minutemen were named to the league’s all-star teams Friday. Junior forward Bobby Trivigno earned first-team honors after tying for second in the conference in scoring with 24 points

Junior goalie Filip Lindberg and sophomore defenseman Zac Jones made the second team, while junior defenseman Marc Del Gaizo and sophomore defenseman Matt Kessel are on the third team.

Freshman forward Josh Lopina was named to the all-rookie team Wednesday.

The conference will announce its major awards finalists (Coach of the Year, Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year) before Sunday’s quarterfinals.

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


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