BUFFALO, N.Y. — On paper, Massachusetts’ biggest advantage over Denver in the Frozen Four semifinal was its power play. The UMass man advantage had been a juggernaut all season long, converting at a 28.17% rate, good for second in the country.
By contrast, Denver’s power play had struggled. It had converted at an anemic 15.0% rate, an almost unthinkable special teams performance for a Frozen Four team, 48th in the nation.
Sometimes, however, advantages on paper have a strange way of getting erased in the cold, hard reality of Frozen Four games.
As it turned out, even-strength play in overtime sent UMass to a national championship contest with Minnesota Duluth. A Marc Del Gaizo blast gave the Minutemen a 4-3 win over Denver.
That said, they had to convert that on-paper power play advantage into Frozen Four gold to create the early-game edge that ultimately made overtime possible.
UMass was forced to kill off five-minute major penalties in both the first period and the second (overlapping into the third), while Denver faced one such challenge in the first. In the third period, UMass also had to kill off another two minor penalties.
One team capitalized in a big way and one did not.
The Pioneers translated their first five-minute major power play into a single goal, but were held off the board during the second one and in the third-period minors.
By contrast, the UMass man advantage struck three times during its lone major opportunity, twice while up 5-on-3.
“They executed, they made finishing plays on their power play,” Denver coach David Carle said. “We didn’t. We [only] made one.”
UMass coach Greg Carvel contended after the win that the special teams impact reflected how the game was officiated, not how his team plays.
“It wasn’t our guys trying to be headhunters in any way,” he said. “It was our guys playing hard. … The refs were throwing everybody in the box who made a body check tonight.
“Because of all the penalties tonight, the momentum of the game went kind of wonky. We lost it, and got on our heels for a good stretch.”
In the end, Del Gaizo’s blast was the game-winner. But UMass’ special teams made it possible.
And that combination means the Minutemen are now one win away from the program’s first national championship ever.