Hockey East championship game a unique opportunity for UMass hockey

  • The UMass hockey team will face UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East championship at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Mullins Center in Amherst. The Minutemen haven’t reached the championship game since 2004 and have never won a Hockey East title. THOM KENDALL/UMASS ATHLETICS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/19/2021 8:33:59 PM
Modified: 3/19/2021 10:34:04 PM

Pioneers make uncharted territory familiar. Being the first can never be revoked.

The UMass hockey team faces an opportunity to accomplish something no others in the program have: winning a Hockey East championship.

UMass Lowell will visit the Mullins Center at 7 p.m. Saturday for the title game. The River Hawks, seventh-seeded upset specialists, are playing for the Lamoriello Trophy for the sixth time since 2013. They’ve won three titles in that span.

The Minutemen have only reached this stage once in 2004 — a triple-overtime loss to Maine that UMass fans still don’t like to talk about. They fell in the semifinals in 2019 as the top seed. The regular season champions that made the Frozen Four and national championship game didn’t play for a Hockey East title.

“We’re going to try and attempt to do something we’ve never done before,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “And that’s fun, it’s exciting.”

Carvel rarely brings up winning championships with the team. His staff focuses on winning the next game. The year before Carvel arrived and his first two seasons, the team finished last in the Hockey East standings. They focused on the process and building a culture that carried the Minutemen through a challenging, fragmented season amidst a global pandemic.

“You get in trouble when you start looking too far ahead. That’s really helped us,” Carvel said. “We do everything we can to keep everyone’s heads on straight.”

Junior assistant captain Bobby Trivigno played on that Frozen Four team. He and the eight other players who faced Minnesota-Duluth for the title know what a deep playoff run takes. They’ve shared that experience and set expectations with their teammates to make a run at the program’s  first conference title since 1972 in the ECAC 2.

“The upperclassmen have as much experience as anyone could in college hockey,” Trivigno said.

While this year’s team lacks the on the NHL’s doorstep talent of players like Hobey Baker winner Cale Makar or current Sharks defensman Mario Ferraro, the Minutemen have greater depth and a defined defensive identity that they rely on in tense moments.

“We have high quality hard working hockey players on his team that know what it takes to win no matter what,” Trivigno said. “That’s the biggest difference with this team, The depth and the drive to get better every day and chase something great. I love this team so much. This has been such a fun group to be a part of. Come Saturday I know we’re going to be ready.”

They better be. The River Hawks (10-8-1) have knocked out Hockey East’s top two seeds in their own building pursuing banner No. 4 and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. UMass Lowell bested Vermont in the first round 5-3 on March 10 before shocking No. 2 Boston University on the road Sunday. Boston College, the top overall seed and nation’s No. 1 team, built a 4-1 lead after two periods in Wednesday’s semifinal. Then the River Hawks stormed back with three third period goals to tie the game.

Marc McLaughlin put the Eagles ahead on the power play with 2 minutes, 7 seconds remaining, but Anthony Baxter tied it again 5-5 41 seconds later with an extra attacker.

Boston College scored what appeared to be a game-winning goal in the first overtime, but it was waived off for an offsides review. UMass Lowell sophomore Matt Brown batted a puck out of the air 12 minutes into the second overtime to stun the Eagles.

“It was one of those situations where you’ve got nothing to lose and you throw everything you have at the opponent,” UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin said after the game.

The River Hawks haven’t lost in regulation since Feb. 20 at Tsongas Arena against Northeastern. They’ve won five of six games and fell in a shootout in the other, which counts as a tie under NCAA rules.

“We always knew no matter the record, everyone makes the playoffs, so we still had a chance,” Brown said. “We got hot at the right time.”

UMass (15-5-4) swept the River Hawks in two games this season: a 5-0 dismantling Jan. 29 as UMass Lowell exited a quarantine and a 2-1 victory at Tsongas Arena the next night, the Minutemen’s first win in that arena in a decade. They’ve won three straight games in the matchup.

“I’m a huge fan of Norm Bazin in many ways. He’s done it many times before,” Carvel said. “The thing that Lowell has is a history of winning Hockey East championships, and we don’t.”

That championship will be awarded at a campus site for the first time since 1990 when BC took down Maine 4-3 in Chestnut Hill. No fans will be permitted at the Mullins Center, as has been the case all season.

“We have home ice in a league championships game. It needs to be a factor for us,” Carvel said. “We’ve gotten used to playing without fans, but we’re playing for a Hockey East championship and there’s nobody in the building, and that’s too bad. If we win this game Saturday, these kids will be champions whether there’s 10 people or 10,000 people in the stands.”

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

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