Frozen Four: UMass hockey gets rematch with Minnesota-Duluth

  • The Massachusetts Minutemen practice during a Division I Men's Ice Hockey practice day held at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday in Pittsburgh. JUSTIN K. ALLER / NCAA PHOTOS via GETTY IMAGES

  • Massachusetts Minutemen practice during a Division I Men's Ice Hockey practice day held at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. JUSTIN K. ALLER / NCAA PHOTOS via GETTY IMAGES

  • Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs practice during a Division I Men's Ice Hockey practice day held at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday in Pittsburgh. JUSTIN K. ALLER / NCAA PHOTOS via GETTY IMAGES

Staff Writer
Published: 4/7/2021 8:54:02 PM
Modified: 4/7/2021 8:53:59 PM

A chance at revenge and redemption awaits the UMass hockey team in Pittsburgh.

The Minutemen will face two-time defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth at 9 p.m. Thursday at the PPG Paints Arena. It’s only the second time the programs have ever clashed. The first delivered the Bulldogs that second title in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2019.

“It’ll be fun to play Duluth again and see where we’re at two years later,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “They’re still the standard bearer.”

UMass (18-5-4) will be without four players that didn’t travel to Pittsburgh because of COVID-19 related contact tracing, including its leading scorer and starting goaltender. But the Minutemen are still focused on the players they have available rather than who’s not.

“I know people were thinking that we’re shorthanded. We can lose a handful of guys and be alright. I want to see how this group handles it,” Carvel said. “We work a lot on the mental part of the game. These are the times where you see if you’re making progress. We weren’t mentally tough two years ago. We were super happy to beat Denver [in the semifinals] and we weren’t ready for what came at us. We’ll be ready Thursday night.”

Should UMass advance, there’s a possibility some of their teammates could return for the national championship game. It’s one of the many factors driving the Minutemen against the Bulldogs.

“This year has been filled with unpredictability. This was one of these moments where we weren’t sure what was going to happen,” junior forward Bobby Trivigno said. “We’re grateful we got the opportunity to come here. We’re not going to squander it. The boys back home are going to be rooting for us, and we’re going to get the job done for them.”

They’ll have to prepare for one of college hockey’s most consistent programs over the last decade. Minnesota-Duluth (15-10-2) survived five overtimes against No. 1 North Dakota in the Midwest Regional championship.

“We’ve had a good leadership group. I’ve got to give those guys a lot of credit,” Minnesota-Duluth coach Scott Sandelin said. “We knew coming in we could count on our juniors and seniors. This group’s got that stick-to-it mentality.”

The Bulldogs have only played one game over the past three weeks. After falling to St. Cloud State, another Frozen Four team, in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff semifinals, Minnesota-Duluth’s first round NCAA Tournament opponent, Michigan, was pulled from the tournament due to COVID protocols.

Then they played nearly three full games against the Fighting Hawks before Luke Mylymok found a winner to send them back to the Frozen Four.

“The mental part (of recovery) might have been a  little more. I feel like we were battling through that game, and once it was over, it was a relief for us,” Minnesota-Duluth senior forward Koby Bender said. “The physical side, it took a couple days to get back to normal.”

The Bulldogs rely on depth. They have five players with at least 20 points, led by Nick Swaney and Jackson Cates with 27 each. Four players have scored double-digit goals.

They’re similar to UMass. Bobby Trivigno leads the Minutemen with 31 points and 21 assists, while senior Carson Gicewicz, one of the four who are staying back in Amherst, has 17 goals. There are six Minutemen with at least 20 points and just two double-digit scorers.

“They’re not going to change the way they play. They’re a hard working team. They’re going to come at us, they’re gong to pressure, they’ve got good forwards, they’ve got a great back end, very mobile,” Sandelin said. “They play fast, they play heavy, they have a good, I call it, ground game offensively. Their team is built a lot like our teams of the past. They’ve got really good depth. I like how they play.”

Even though they will be down three rotation players, the Minutemen are receiving some reinforcements: sophomore forwards Cal Keifiuk and Eric Faith are returning from injuries. Faith only played in 16 of UMass’ 27 games, while Kiefiuk appeared in 20.

“They’re both coming back off long-term injuries and they haven’t played in a while, but we practice in a certain way every day that hopefully games aren’t any different,” Carvel said. “They haven’t played on this stage, but they know what’s expected of them. It’s up to them to rise to the occasion.”

UMass’ defense and special teams have carried the team all season. The Minutemen are second in the nation in penalty killing, allowing opponents to score on just 6.6 percent of their power plays. They also allow the second fewest goals per game in the country (1.7).

Minnesota-Duluth will bring the nation’s 12th ranked defense and an offense that puts the puck in the net 3.04 times on average.

After seeing it in 2019, the Minutemen won’t be overwhelmed again.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski Follow him on Twitter

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