For the first time in its program’s history, UMass Hockey is in the Frozen Four! After an outstanding season where we saw the Minutemen enter elite status in the NCAA hockey world, the team has backed up their play in the biggest tournament of the year. Let’s take a look at how they got there, and how UMass’s path to a potential championship may look.
After a disappointing loss to Boston College in the Hockey East semifinals, UMass has responded resoundingly in the NCAA Tournament. Through two games, the Minutemen are outscoring their opponents 8-0 and outshouting them by 30 shots, resulting in commanding victories of Harvard and Notre Dame in the first and second rounds.
During the first period of the matchup against Harvard, the Minutemen outshot the Crimson 12-3, and didn’t look back from there as they cruised to the Elite Eight with a 4-0 win. Forward Brett Boeing starred against Harvard, scoring two goals in the first-round rout.
After that, UMass faced Notre Dame in the Elite Eight, but the result remained the same: another dominant 4-0 victory, highlighted by a second period in which the Minutemen outshot the Fighting Irish 16-2. Wunderkind defenseman Cale Makar scored a beaut in this one, and forward Jake Gaudet added a goal and an assist in the winning effort, too.
While defense has been a strength for UMass during this tournament by not letting up many shots, goaltender Filip Lindberg has held down the fort tremendously, too. He’s stopped all 30 shots he’s faced so far, and will look to continue his shutout streak tonight against Denver.
The only issue is, Denver hasn’t given up a goal this tournament, either. In the two games played so far, Pioneers goaltender Philip Larsson has been a brick wall, saving 24 against Ohio State in the first round and 26 against American International College after that.
Although Denver’s netminding has certainly been up to par, the same cannot be said about their offense against Ohio State. The Pioneers only managed to muster 13 shots throughout the course of the game, including one against an empty net in the third period.
Similarly, Denver only managed two shots against AIC in the following round, but each of these resulted in goals for the Pioneers. So while Denver has won both their contests by more than a single-goal margin, they have been outshot in both games, proving their defense is certainly beatable against UMass’s high-powered attack.
Given the way the tournament has gone for both teams, it’s looking like this one is going to be a low-scoring, defensive battle, with either UMass or Denver most likely winning by a one-goal margin. However, it could just as likely go the other way, too, as Denver and UMass had the 21st and 3rd-ranked offenses this season, respectively.
With two elite teams matching up to face off for a spot in the championship, look for this one to be tight and highly competitive. If UMass comes out on top in this one, they will face either Providence or Minnesota-Duluth for the title, the latter of which has been a top-ranked team all season but has not faced the Minutemen this year. While UMass has beaten Providence twice this season, they lost their last matchup against the Friars, and each of them has ended in a one-goal victory.
Whether the Minutemen win or lose in this one, this has been an incredible season for a team that was a blast to root for all year. Not only did they make history by advancing to their first Frozen Four, but they inspired thousands of UMass students and fans at the Mullins Center weekend after weekend. This has been an amazing run, and let’s hope that it continues past tomorrow with another W. Go UMass!