NCAA Tournament: Ben Meyers’ OT goal dethrones UMass hockey, ending Minutemen’s season

  • UMass forward Anthony Del Gaizo parks himself in front of the net for Reed Lebster’s opening goal against Minnnesota in the NCAA Tournament on Friday at the DCU Center in Worcester. The Gophers won 4-3 in overtime. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass forward Reed Lebster, who scored two goals, works the puck around the back of the net against Minnnesota in the NCAA Tournament on Friday at the DCU Center in Worcester. The Gophers won 4-3 in overtime. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • Boston 03/25/22 NCAA Regional Tournament- UMass vs Minnesota- Massachusetts forward Bobby Trivigno (8) best checked hard by Minnesota’s Matthew Knies in the 2nd period. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff (sports) JOHN TLUMACKI--THE BOSTON GLOBE VIA AP

  • Boston 03/25/22 NCAA Regional Tournament- UMass vs Minnesota- Minnesota Jackson Lacombe watches the overtime winning goal get past Massachusetts goaltender Matt Murray (31). John Tlumacki/Globe Staff (sports) JOHN TLUMACKI--THE BOSTON GLOBE VIA AP

  • Boston 03/25/22 NCAA Regional Tournament- UMass vs Minnesota- Massachusetts defenseman Aaron Bohlinger (25) (top) collides with Minnesota’s Jack Perbix in the 2nd period. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff (sports) JOHN TLUMACKI--THE BOSTON GLOBE VIA AP

  • Boston 03/25/22 NCAA Regional Tournament- UMass vs Minnesota- Massachusetts forward Garrett Wait (12) slips the puck past Minnesota goalie Justen Close to put UMass up, 2-0. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff (sports) JOHN TLUMACKI--THE BOSTON GLOBE VIA AP

Staff Writer
Published: 3/25/2022 10:42:06 PM
Modified: 3/25/2022 11:25:43 PM

WORCESTER — The golden boy dethroned the kings.

Minnesota captain Ben Meyers, the Big 10 Player of the Year, a Hobey Baker finalist and an Olympian, flashed in front of UMass goalie Matt Murray 8 minutes, 31 seconds into overtime in Friday’s NCAA Tournament opening round. His teammate Aaron Huglen corralled the puck in the corner. Meyers was originally headed there but slowed to give himself an angle. Huglen delivered an on-point pass, and Meyers snapped his wrist to end the Minutemen’s season 4-3 at the DCU Center.

“In games like this, the difference makers make the difference,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said.

The No. 2 seed Gophers (25-12) will face No. 1 Western Michigan at 4 p.m. Sunday for a spot in the Frozen Four. No. 3 seed UMass (22-13-2) reached the previous two Frozen Fours and were the defending national champions. The Minutemen hadn’t lost a postseason game since the 2019 National Championship, but three unanswered Gopher goals in the game’s final three periods ended that streak and UMass’ season.

“The only way you beat UMass is you gotta match that grit,” Minnesota coach Bob Motzko said. “We like a little prettier hockey, but we’ve got to learn to win games like that.”

UMass’ grit wore down Minnesota early, as the Minutemen built a 3-1 lead in the game’s first 21:24.

After the teams felt each other out for most of the first period, Minnesota made the first mistake. The Gophers were whistled for a delayed penalty with seven minutes remaining. UMass pulled goalie Matt Murray for the extra attacker knowing the play would be whistled dead if Minnesota gained control of the puck.

UMass defenseman Matthew Kessel whipped an initial shot wide, but the Minutemen maintained control. Cal Kiefiuk corralled the puck from below the right circle and found Reed Lebster for a one-time blast with 5:51 left in the period. Anthony Del Gaizo provided a picturesque screen parked in front of Justen Close (20 saves) to obscure his view of the long shot. The goal was reviewed and upheld. Ryan Ufko picked up an assist.

It got worse for Minnesota. Ryan Johnson went to the penalty box for cross checking as soon as the teams lined up for the post-goal face off. Less than a minute later, former Gopher Garrett Wait punished his former team, tapping in a close dribbler with 4:55 remaining in the first. Ufko added his second assist in such a short span, as did Bobby Trivigno, who became UMass’ all-time leading scorer in the Hockey East era with his 131st point. He’s fourth all-time, but the three players in front of him played at least one season against Division II competition (Pat Keenan amassed 180 points from 1970-73).

“Obviously that was ideal. We were super opportunistic,” UMass senior forward Anthony Del Gaizo said. “That’s exactly what we wanted to do.”

UMass put a third puck into a net, but it went past Matt Murray instead of Close. Johnson blasted a shot from the right circle after a pass from Meyers that Murray saved, but it kicked off Colin Felix’s skate clean into the net. Matthew Knies also earned an assist on the play.

All three tallies were reviewed and confirmed.

Lebster left no doubt to start the second period. He pounced on a loose puck that dribbled away from Close and poked it through the tight space his sprawl created in the low corner 1:14 in. Kiefiuk and Del Gaizo received assists on the play, and the Minutemen received a 3-1 lead.

“(Lebster’s) a streaky kind of player. He’s been practicing and playing really well lately,” Carvel said. “He gets hot and he’s got a good stick.”

Minnesota tightened the game as the period waned. The Gophers’ forecheck kept UMass in its own zone, and Tristan Broz beat Murray in tight to make it 3-2 with 2:51 left in the second. Jaxon Nelson and Rhett Pitlick earned an assist each on the play.

UMass’ second penalty of the game was its most costly. Ufko was called for interference with 7:33 left. After a few clears on the penalty kill, UMass tried to send the puck away, but it went right to Knies. He ripped a one-timer to the top corner above Murray’s left shoulder to tie the game at 3 with 6:43 left.

“I don’t feel like we lost momentum in the game. If you would have asked me how our team played, would I be happy with it? One-hundred percent,” Carvel said.

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

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