This Week in Hockey East: Offensive catalysts Thompson, Trivigno leading Providence, UMass into conference semifinals

Providence’s Tyce Thompson and UMass’ Bobby Trivigno have their teams in the Hockey East tournament semifinals (photos: Stew Milne/Thompson, UMass Athletics/Trivigno).

When Providence and Massachusetts square off this evening for a spot in the Hockey East title game, there will be two players on opposite sides who have evolved significantly this season to become offensive leaders of the respective clubs.

UMass’ Bobby Trivigno and Providence’s Tyce Thomspon each lead their respective clubs in scoring, but both played have evolved throughout this season to each be playing their best hockey down the stretch.

For Trivingo, he was challenged by his head coach. As a rookie in 2018-19, the 5-foot-8 winger was explosive offensively popping 13 goals and 15 assists.

But a season ago, that production fell off with just nine goals and 11 assists in 34 games.

UMass coach Greg Carvel know he had to do something.

“We knew what kind of kid he is,” said Carvel of Trivigno. “He’s a scrapper and he’s always found a way to rise above expectations. His freshman year, we had all those players like Cale Makar, but he was a really important part of that team.

“He came back as a sophomore and he was one of those kids who, their freshman year they’re too good and you have a sophomore year you’re not happy with. So I challenged him and he came back this year and he’s been outstanding.”

Carvel calls Trivingo the best conditioned player and hardest working play on this year’s team and it shows on the stat sheet. In 23 games, Trivigno has posted 27 points including nine goals. Playing along side Hockey East co-rookie of the year Josh Lopina and Garrett Wait, a junior transfer from Minnesota.

He also, according to Carvel is an “honest leader.”

“He’s a vocal leader and he leads by the way he plays,” Carvel said. “He was a finalist for [Hockey East] Player of the Year and I never would’ve imagined that from a kid who’s 5-foot-8, undrafted. He’s been the heartbeat of our team.”

Tonight, Trivigno will likely be on the ice against Providence’s top player, Thompson, who is a polar-opposite on the wing for the Friars.

The 6-foot-1, 185 pound draft pick of the New Jersey Devils didn’t start the season strong, though coach Nate Leaman admits that could be a product of beginning the year at center as opposed to wing.

While playing in the middle, Thompson scored just once at 5-on-5. Returning to wing in early January, he’s exploded offensively.

Of late, he’s netted five goals in his last six games. And it’s not all goals. In a 5-1 win over Merrimack, Thompson set up all five Providence goals.

“He’s starting to score regularly,” said Leaman of Thompson. “The thing that hurt his is we played his too much in the middle. He’s much better on the wing. We needed some time to develop a couple of kids in the middle. So that forced Tyce in the middle.

Back on the wing allows Thompson to be more active in the offense. On Sunday, in a quarterfinal win over Connecticut, the junior had a back-breaking goal early in the third to expand the Providence lead after the higher-seeded Huskies team had climbed back into the game late in the second.

“We’ve had him on the wing the past month and he’s Tyce Thompson,” Leaman said. “He’s scoring more, making more plays. He’s playing good hockey right now.”

Tall task ahead for River Hawks

Of the four teams remaining in tonight’s Hockey East semifinal, three probably feel pretty good about their NCAA tournament chances as Boston College, UMass and Providence all seem like NCAA locks (as does Boston University).

The one outlier is UMass Lowell, who will take on top-seed and national No. 1 Boston College in the early semifinal.

They have had the longest road in the tournament needing wins over Vermont (5-3) and Boston University (2-1) to reach the semifinals.

And while no current member of the Lowell roster has played in a Hockey East semifinal game, it is a very familiar place for their coach Norm Bazin. The River Hawks reached five straight title games between 2013 and 2017, winning three times.

And while this River Hawks teams have had bumps in the road, particularly multiple COVID-related pauses, they seem to be hitting their stride at the right time.

On Sunday, Lowell fell behind 1-0 early on before rallying for the win. They held a potent Terrier team to just 16 total shots on goal including just two in the game’s final period when the outcome was in the balance.

“We’re excited about the win,” said Bazin. “I thought our third period was our best period. This is a great time of year to be playing. We get to live to fight another day.”

A season unlike any other

This will be the final weekly column for Hockey East this season. So I want to take a moment and recognize the efforts that have been made to get us very close to the finish line.

I’ll begin with the schools. For the student-athletes and their coaches and support staff, this season probably felt like a horrible edition of Groundhog’s Day. Practice, games, online school and a whole lot of isolation. I can’t imagine what each of these individuals had to go through to give us – the fans and the media – some entertainment throughout the season.

Thanks, too, to those who serve in the role of sports information director. Especially in this year where SIDs have facilitated access to coaches and players through Zoom (I will admit that a year ago, I didn’t even know what Zoom was), your work made our lives as writers so much easier.

To the league office, in particularly to first-year commissioner Steve Metcalf, your efforts were incredible to help things remain nimble. The ability to adjust on the fly, working extra hours every week to try to figure out which teams were going to play one another on a TBD schedule had to be difficult. But that ability to remain flexible helped get more games played in Hockey East this season.

Let’s hope that by next October, the college hockey season looks more like what we’ve grown accustomed to, not this year’s aberration.

Here’s to a great league championship and success for Hockey East in the NCAA tournament.