NCAA Tournament: UMass hockey sees familiar shades in Lake Superior State

  • UMass won its first Hockey East championship less than a week ago against UMass Lowell. In traveling to Bridgeport, Conn., for the NCAA Tournament, the Minutemen have had to adjust their routine taking a day off in the middle fo the week to quarantine after testing. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass senior captain Jake Gaudet expects a phyiscal game against Lake Superior State on Friday in Bridgeport, Conn. “(Fellow forward) Carson (Gicewicz) and I are trying to hit people and make life difficult for the other team,” he said. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/25/2021 7:02:33 PM
Modified: 3/25/2021 7:02:32 PM

The opening round of the NCAA Tournament may spark some déjà vu in the UMass hockey team.

The Minutemen, seeded No. 2 in the East Regional, will face No. 3 Lake Superior State at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. Though the programs have never met – UMass has never faced the Lakers in any sport – Lake Superior State, ranked 13th nationally, reminded UMass coach Greg Carvel of UMass Lowell, who the Minutemen beat Saturday for their first Hockey East title.

“They gave up very few goals through their past six games. They’re a good sized team, older, physical, grind the game,” he said. “We’re expecting a low-scoring game.”

Match the Lakers’ physical style with the way UMass wants to play (heavy, defensive-minded, gritty) and that could lead to a defensive battle with few opportunities.

“It’s going to be a hard game. I don’t think it’s going to be flashy plays,” UMass junior forward Bobby Trivigno said. “It’ll be a hard, fast and structural type game.”

Battles in the corners, forechecking and time in the offensive zone will go a long way toward determining who advances to Saturday’s regional final.

“(Fellow forward) Carson (Gicewicz) and I are trying to hit people and make life difficult for the other team,” UMass captain Jake Gaudet said.

Lake Superior State earned its first NCAA Tournament bid since 1996 when it won its first WCHA title. The Lakers (19-6-3) are riding a six-game winning streak in which they knocked off the regional’s No. 4 seed Bemidji State in the conference semifinals. They’ve only allowed multiple goals in two of those six games.

Ashton Calder leads Lake State with 28 points and 15 goals, while Pete Veillette has 13 assists and 26 points.

“We can play a lot of different styles,” Lake State coach Damon Whitten said. “We’ve talked a lot about our seniors and our upperclassmen. We’ve got good experience on our team.”

None of that experience is in the NCAA Tournament, however. UMass returns 11 players from the 2019 team that reached the national championship game.

“That experience, you hear so many people talk about it and you have to get here and go through challenges at times,” Whitten said. “I like the experience with our team and I like our leadership group. I think that can override any sense of we haven’t been here.”

Carvel saw firsthand what can happen when facing a team that’s been there before, as his team fell to defending champion Minnesota-Duluth in the 2019 final.

“I’m excited to play in the tournament with some experience,” he said. “We had a good team last time, but when we played Duluth in the championship game they knew everything that was going to happen and we were reacting instead of being proactive.”

Gaudet and the other returning players have tried to impress the level of play required to advance in the NCAA Tournament on their less-experienced teammates.

“We’re trying to communicate that it’s exciting to be here but prepare and don’t let the moment slip,” he said.

The Minutemen (16-5-4) haven’t lost a regulation game in more than two months (Jan. 17 against Boston University). They’ve stayed sharp by sticking to their process and focusing on their own game amidst a revolving door schedule of available opponents based on who wasn’t on COVID-19 pause. Carvel said avoiding virus pauses was one of UMass’ strengths. It allowed them to play more games early and stay in a consistent rhythm.

“It’s your ability to handle the mental part of the thing. We’ve stayed COVID free as a team,” he said. “We asked the guys to sacrifice more than usual. The fact that we played consistently earlier in the season was an advantage to us.”

Heading to Bridgeport for the regional slightly altered that rhythm. The Minutemen, the No. 6 team in the country, left Tuesday and spent Wednesday quarantining before returning to the ice to practice Thursday.

“Getting the guys’ heads reengaged is my most concerning thing. We rely heavily on our process, consistency in how we do things,” Carvel said. “When you take 36 hours, almost 48 hours off, that’s something they’re not used to.”

Like the whole season, the Minutemen will lean on their defense. UMass only allows 1.8 goals per game, second in the nation. Since junior Filip Lindberg returned from injury and took over in net Jan. 22, the Minutemen have averaged 1.4 goals allowed per game with three shutouts.

Lindberg, who started all four games in UMass’ last NCAA run, leads the nation with a 9.40 save percentage.

“He has a history of getting hot entering the tournament like he did his freshman year,” Trivigno said. “He knows and we know he can perform on the biggest stage.”

UMass’ defensive numbers are aided by its elite penalty kill (90.4 percent), which ranks third nationally. The Minutemen pair that with the country’s 12th best power play (22.9 percent) to control special teams situations.

“It started with embarrassment. We had the top power play in the country two years ago, and the following year we finished 55 out of 60, which is embarrassing,” Carvel said. “So we made the power play the focal point. We’ve got two very even units. Our power play has helped us win games. The combination of the two, many, many nights this year we’ve won games because we’ve won the special teams battle.”

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


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