In the second Frozen Four preview, Massachusetts is looking for its first national championship and will lean heavily on Hobey Baker hopeful Cale Makar, in addition to depth throughout the lineup.
Season record: 30-9-0
How they got to Buffalo: Beat Harvard 4-0; beat Notre Dame 4-0 to win Northeast Regional
Top players: Defensemen Cale Makar (16-32-48), Marc Del Gaizo (12-15-27), Mario Ferraro (2-11-13); forwards Jacob Pritchard (16-29-45), Mitchell Chaffee (17-24-41)
Top goalie: Filip Lindberg (10-3-0, 1.41 GAA, .939 save percentage)
Why they will win the national championship: In addition to having the best player remaining in the tournament in Cale Makar, the Minutemen have so much balance top to bottom in the lineup that they should be considered the most complete team in the Frozen Four.
Why they will not win the national championship: Inexperience. This is the first time for this program to ever reach the Frozen Four and we saw the issues that inexperience created in the Hockey East tournament.
After a subpar effort in the Hockey East semifinals, a 3-0 loss to Boston College, there was reason for the UMass faithful to have concerns entering the Northeast Regional.
But the Minutemen eased those concerns quickly, putting forth two complete efforts in earning back-to-back shutout victories over Harvard and Notre Dame, both by convincing 4-0 finals.
“I think it was important that we gained that experience at the [Hockey East tournament] at the Garden,” said coach Greg Carvel. “Our guys have tackled a lot of new situations this year like being the No. 1 team in the country for short stints and being the No. 1 team in Hockey East.
“Going into the Garden, that’s something you can’t replicate, something you can’t prepare them for until you go through it. From the staff to the players to the administrators, that was a huge learning experience for us.
“It helped us for the next week going into Manchester. Now going to Buffalo will be a whole different level.
Carvel said that the number one experience that came out of the 3-0 loss to Boston College was the ability to re-focus.
“It took a day or two to process it all. Ultimately, my concern was [the game against BC] was the most passive we had played in any game this year. I tried to figure out why.
“There were a lot of excuses you could come up with, but we didn’t need excuses, we needed answers to get our team playing to the standard we’re accustomed to.
“We were trying to narrow it down and give our kids a few items of this is what we do well and what we need to do to be successful. We weren’t going to worry about a lot of other things, just focus on a handful of things.
“That helped the team reset. We tried to stress the parts of the game we are good at.”
On the ice, this will be one of the first times that the national collegiate audience will get exposure to the much-heralded Cale Makar. The sophomore is likely to head to the Colorado Avalanche the second his season is over. Makar is also considered the favorite of the Hobey Hat Trick to take home the award Friday night.
And while Makar deservedly gets the recognition, often overlooked is his classmate and fellow blueliner, Mario Ferraro, himself a second-round draft pick of San Jose.
Carvel recognizes the value of Ferraro, particularly on the defensive side of the puck and talks of his demeanor, being a supportive teammate never jealous of the attention shown to Makar.
“With Cale getting all the spotlight, [Mario] just wants to win,” said Carvel. “He doesn’t care what his numbers are. He doesn’t care what recognition he gets.
“At the regional in Manchester, I think people recognized how important Mario is and how he plays a complete game for us. He leads us defensively. And in the locker room he’s really important because he really holds the team to a certain standard.
“To me that’s as important as anything a team can have, a leader.”
Defense was certainly the story in the regional and the last line of defense may have surprised some.
Filip Lindberg hasn’t been the name most associate with the UMass net this season. Matt Murray carried the team’s water with impressive numbers. But since allowing three goals on 14 shots against New Hampshire in the opening game of the postseason, a game where Lindberg took over midway through and earned the double overtime win, the crease has belonged to Lindberg.
The World Junior veteran certainly has big game experience on his side and showed that with back-to-back shutout in the regional, his second and third shutouts in four postseason starts.
“At the end of last year, it was glaringly obvious that we needed to get better at special teams and goaltending,” said Carvel. “Our save percentage was barely .900.
“Bringing in Filip Lindberg to go along with Matt Murray, two really solid goaltenders who pushed each other all year long, I’ve said that it’s easier on a coach when you know whose going to be your goalie, but it’s better for your team when you don’t.
“Matt carried the ball for the first part of the season. He didn’t lose a game so it was hard for Filip to get a chance. Now Filip got a chance and he’s not losing.”