MANCHESTER, N.H. — The doubters outnumbered the believers. By a lot.
Almost no one was picking Massachusetts to advance out of the Northeast Regional, even though the Minutemen entered as its No. 1 seed.
They were too young. Too inexperienced. They’d spit the bit in the Hockey East semifinals, unable to cope with the big stage.
Not Ready for Prime Time Players.
Well, the UMass Minutemen took their first, gigantic step toward proving those doubters wrong. They defeated Harvard 4-0 Friday in Northeast Regional semifinal game that was lopsided territorially, but remained scoreless into the second period and only 1-0 well into the third.
“There wasn’t any panic,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “We were playing well. We felt like the ice was tilted in our favor. It felt like it was just a matter of time.”
Minutemen players paid tribute to the lessons learned in last week’s disappointing 3-0 loss to Boston College in the Hockey East semifinals.
“It was a steppingstone,” star defenseman and alternate captain Cale Makar said. “All championship teams have to go through big losses like that. For us, we took it to heart. It was a learning [experience] for us playing on that kind of stage.
“It’s a different time of the year now. Now it’s live or die.”
UMass played an aggressive, in-your-face style that suffocated Harvard, giving the Crimson no room to skate, at times piling up shot disparities of 12-3 and 17-4.
“They’re a fast team,” Harvard senior Michael Floodstrand said. “They play fast and very aggressive. They’re a great neutral-zone team, and in today’s game that’s pretty much everything to establish possession.
“Their D were extremely active, and their forwards were coming back hard. That’s a pretty tough combination.”
Freshman Filip Lindberg stopped all 17 shots for his second shutout in the last three playoff games. Although the UMass team defense deserved a major share of credit for the whitewashing, Lindberg still had to come up big when Harvard counterpunched.
“Our goalies haven’t had to steal games for us this year,” Carvel said. “They’ve just had to be real solid like Filip was tonight.”
Freshman fourth-liner Anthony Del Gaizo put UMass on the scoreboard at 14:15 of the second period. He whacked in the loose puck following a Kurt Keats rush up the left wing and attempted wrap-around.
Harvard responded to the 1-0 deficit with its best action of the night, giving UMass its biggest scares since an early-first-period Crimson goal was disallowed for goaltender interference.
UMass couldn’t breathe easy until it scored twice in the span of less than two minutes in the third period. John Leonard scored a proverbial “greasy goal” to make it 2-0, shooting sideways along the goal line and sneaking it in short side.
Brett Boeing added another at 9:11 to make it an impregnable 3-0 lead. Makar sprung the senior with a pass that sent him in all alone on the right wing side. Boeing beat Michael Lackey for what amounted to the final nail in Harvard’s coffin.
Just in case, Boeing added an empty netter in the closing seconds for the final score.
UMass now stands one game away from the Frozen Four, conclusively proving its doubters wrong.