Experience informing UMass hockey’s return to Frozen Four

  • UMass senior captain Jake Gaudet will play in his second Frozen Four next week. He and the Minutemen are better prepared for the trip than in 2019. “This year, we’re going there with a purpose, and we’re going to do everything we can to get some hardware,” Gaudet said. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

  • UMass junior defenseman Marc Del Gaizo said the Minutemen’s last trip flew by. “That was a crazy run,” he said. “The whole Frozen Four happened so fast from the semifinals then it seemed like it was like an hour later we were playing in the finals.” THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/31/2021 7:55:04 PM
Modified: 3/31/2021 9:55:09 PM

Marc Del Gaizo’s game-winning goal entered Denver’s net shortly after midnight April 12, 2019, the last time UMass played in the Frozen Four. 

The Minutemen weren’t scheduled to face Minnesota-Duluth in the national championship game for 44 hours. It passed a lot quicker.

“That was a crazy run,” Del Gaizo said. “The whole Frozen Four happened so fast from the semifinals then it seemed like it was like an hour later we were playing in the finals.”

UMass practiced early Friday and attended news conferences, then Cale Makar prepared for the Hobey Baker ceremony. His father, Gary Makar, told UMass coach Greg Carvel afterward, “Cale is gassed.” The rest of the team was, too. They darted from one commitment to the next over four days in Buffalo.

“The next day, the itinerary had us up and going and it was too much,” Carvel said. “I don’t want to say limped in, but we were a tired team going into that championship game.”

The Minutemen will have a much better idea of what to expect and how to prepare in the lead up for their second time around, next week in Pittsburgh.

“Last time, it was eyes wide open, go where we were told,” Carvel said. “Now we have an idea of how it runs and how important it is to make sure your players get proper rest and preparation.”

There are 11 players still at UMass from that 2019 team. Captain Jake Gaudet said the Minutemen have a different mindset for the return trip.

“Last time, you’re excited to be there. It was really exciting just to get to the Frozen Four,” he said. “This year, we’re going there with a purpose, and we’re going to do everything we can to get some hardware.”

A national championship trophy would be the second statue the Minutemen add to their trophy case in 2021. After UMass won its first Hockey East title March 20, Gaudet and the team heard from program alumni that helped put the run in context.

“What I’ve gotten from that is how that opportunity to go to the Frozen Four – especially back to back – is really rare and it’s something you should cherish,” Gaudet said. “At the same time, it’s an opportunity, like the Hockey East championship, where you’re not going to get that opportunity very often. We want to make sure our entire team is ready to go and makes the most of that opportunity.”

Carvel learned from the experience, as well, and is approaching both the 12-day gap between the regionals and Frozen Four and the team’s time in Pittsburgh differently than he did in 2019.

“It’s a different year. There won’t be as many distractions because of COVID, but we learned that we have to do what’s best for our players first, and last time I don’t think we did that well enough,” he said. “The experience of two years ago will be critical in helping us because we’re going have to play the same tough team again. Last time against Duluth, it wasn’t close. They shut the door on us.”

UMass and its April 8 opponent, Minnesota-Duluth, are appearing in consecutive Frozen Fours. The Bulldogs have made the last three events and are seeking their third straight national title (and fourth overall) after defeating the Minutemen in the 2019 final. Minnesota-Duluth is in its eighth Frozen Four.

“This is certainly a different year, right? Even going through the regionals and getting there earlier. Guys have gone through this before so they know what to expect once you get there and more importantly how hard it is to win two games there,” Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said. “It doesn’t guarantee anything, but it does help knowing what to expect when you get there and how to navigate that.”

The other semifinalists don’t have that same familiarity. Minnesota State is making its Frozen Four debut, while St. Cloud State is returning after an eight-year absence.

“The biggest thing you try to do is let the kids be really excited for a couple days. They earned it. They deserved it. They should be excited,” St. Cloud coach Brett Larson said. “Then you try to mange their emotions and get the distractions out of the way. You try to get the little things out of the way that may be causing stress.”

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

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