MANCHESTER, N.H. — In the post-game press conference, moderator Pete Webster noted that with its 4-0 win, Massachusetts had raised its record to 30-9-0. It sounded like 39-0, and based on UMass’s total dominance, that version felt even more appropriate.
The Minutemen overpowered Notre Dame, 4-0, one day after beating Harvard by the same score, to earn the program’s first ever trip to the Frozen Four.
“That was maybe as complete a game as we’ve played this year,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “This weekend we were outstanding for 120 minutes. I thought we controlled the play for two complete games.
“I’m extremely proud of this group. We didn’t stumble into this. We knocked the door down.”
The result stood conventional wisdom on its head. Conventional wisdom had looked at last weekend’s results and determined that Notre Dame, the regional’s number three seed, was the team to beat, not top-seeded UMass.
Notre Dame came in as the Grizzled Veteran, much like Boston College had in facing and defeating UMass in the Hockey East semifinals a week earlier. The Irish had advanced to the Frozen Four both of the last two seasons, reaching the championship game last year.
For them, this NCAA regionals thing was decidedly old hat.
In 2011 and 2017, they had even used this exact same venue, the Northeast Regional in Manchester, New Hampshire, to advance to the Frozen Four.
Two wins in Manchester. Been there, done that. Got the T-shirt.
So what if they were the number three seed in the regional? Boston College had been the number seven seed in the Hockey East semifinals and had defeated UMass, 3-0. So what if Notre Dame had needed overtime to get past Clarkson while the Minutemen enjoyed a few extra hours of rest?
Notre Dame had what it takes, according to conventional wisdom. The Irish had shown it in their winner-takes-all Big Ten championship game with Penn State. The Irish have been members of the Big Ten for two years, and they’ve won that tournament both times.
They know how to win in the postseason, said the experts. The bigger the stage, the better the Irish perform. They’re used to the pressure. They thrive on it.
And so they became the trendy pick this past week to reach the Frozen Four.
By contrast, UMass had never (until this year) finished higher than fourth in Hockey East, had never won the tournament, and had appeared in the NCAA tournament only once in the history of the program, that being way back in 2007, when the Minutemen advanced to the East Regional title game only to fall to Maine.
Conference championship weekend had ended disastrously for the young whippersnappers from Amherst, but gloriously for the grizzled veterans from South Bend.
Hence, the conventional wisdom.
Even so, UMass coach Greg Carvel said before the regionals started, “We are an inexperienced team that hasn’t played at this level, but I’d rather take this team than an average team that has a lot of experience.”
The Minutemen dominated puck possession and territorial play, as they had in defeating Harvard, 4-0, one day earlier, finishing with a quite appropriate 34-13 shot advantage.
“BC gave them a wakeup call last week,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said, “and they came out with a vengeance this weekend, both last night and tonight.”
As had happened against the Crimson, the first period ended scoreless, but the Minutemen took control on the scoreboard in the second, scoring three times to effectively put the game away.
The first goal came 36 seconds into the game’s first power play, at the 7:49 mark. Jake Gaudet shot along the ice from the edge of the right faceoff circle, an innocuous looking shot, but it got past Notre Dame goaltender Cale Morris.
Notre Dame went on a power play of its own almost immediately, but the stellar UMass penalty kill took care of business.
Half a minute after killing the penalty, the Minutemen doubled their lead. In an exhibition of their team speed, they outraced a puck before it got to Morris, kept the play going, and after Brett Boeing shot from the right faceoff circle, John Leonard collected the rebound, dangled with it at the right post, and then lifted it over Morris.
When all-everything defenseman Cale Makar blasted a one-timer into the net at 14:49 for a 3-0 lead, the game was effectively over.
Oliver Chau closed out the scoring with an empty-netter with 2:33 remaining in regulation.
In recording back-to-back regional shutouts, UMass duplicated the feat of Boston College in the 2012 Northeast Regional en route to a national championship.
Goaltender Filip Lindberg recorded both UMass shutouts, but seemed almost an afterthought in this one because of his team’s performance. It was his third shutout in four playoff games.
“We were a buzz saw this weekend,” Carvel said. “We’re heading into the Frozen Four flying high.”