UMass caught ‘out of sorts’ by experienced Minnesota Duluth

Massachusetts was held to fewer than 20 shots on goal for only the second time this season (photo: Melissa Wade).

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Midnight came for the Cinderella Massachusetts Minutemen seconds into the game. Although it would take 3:51 after the drop of the puck for Minnesota Duluth to take the lead en route to a dominating 3-0 win on Saturday, the Bulldogs wasted no time in taking immediate and total control from the start.

UMass not only was shut out, it was held to fewer than 20 shots on goal for only the second time all year. Duluth owned the territorial play and puck possession to throttle the nation’s No. 3 offense and its No. 1 power play, which was rendered ineffective in its four opportunities.

“We were out of sorts,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “[That] hasn’t happened to us many times this year. It was similar to the game against Boston College [in the Hockey East semifinals].

“It’s unfortunate. I don’t mind losing to a good hockey team, [but] I don’t think that was our best tonight. For whatever reason, our compete level wasn’t at the level it usually is.

“Even at our best, I don’t know if we beat Duluth. They’re a very good team. I think we looked like a young team tonight. We’ll go home knowing that we lost to a better team tonight, for sure.”

Duluth especially dominated play along the boards, leading to much of its overpowering play.

“They’re a big, strong hockey team,” Carvel said. “But we have some kids on our team that usually play big, heavy, compete, and create offense through that. [It] just wasn’t there tonight.

“You know what, this is a big stage. Again, we looked like a young team. We looked like a team that was playing a team that’s been here before, done this. We’ll use this as a big step in our growth as a program.”

Despite the bitter end to the storybook season, the Minutemen achieved far more than that of any team in the program’s history, and capped off a dramatic turnaround from the team that posted a 5-29-2 record just two years earlier, finishing a distant last in Hockey East, Carvel’s first season at the helm.

“At the beginning of [the last two] years, we talked,” said Kurt Keats, the lone holdover from the previous regime. “We said, ‘Wouldn’t it be so special if 10 years from now UMass hockey was a national powerhouse year in, year out, contending for a national championship, and we were the group that turned it around?'”

Whether UMass can be such a perennial powerhouse remains to be seen, but this squad will have done its part.

Cale Makar, the team’s sophomore star who is all but certain to turn pro, appeared in the postgame press conference still wearing his jersey.

“It’s tough right now,” he said. “I’m pretty sour. But you look back at the two years that I’ve been at this school, especially this year. The amount of respect that we’ve created is just amazing.

“This program is no longer an embarrassment. Everybody can look at us as a program that’s going to be successful for years.”