HOCKEY EAST CHAMPIONSHIP: Gaudet nets lone goal to lift UMass over UMass Lowell to claim first-ever conference championship

UMass will head to the NCAA tournament after a 1-0 win over UMass Lowell Saturday night in the Hockey East championship game (photo: Rich Gagnon).

The most unique of seasons and most unique of circumstances might as well have set the stage for the most unique of champions.

At their home Mullins Arena, UMass took its first-ever Hockey East championship, a 1-0 victory over upstart UMass Lowell. It was the fourth time ever a team took the title by a 1-0 score.

What better season for a game of firsts if not one that included the first to have no fans in attendance due to a pandemic?

“We’ve done things the right way, we haven’t taken any shortcuts,” said Minutemen coach Greg Carvel. “Every year we got a little further in the playoffs and this year we’re fortunate to have every game at home, which is a huge factor.”

It wasn’t as dramatic as the Minutemen’s only other title game appearance. In 2004, they fell to Maine in triple overtime.

With a team as theatrical as the River Hawks, it appeared fate might have more extra periods for the Minutemen to confront their fate.

Late in the third they appeared to tie the game, and believed they did, as the puck was covered up by bodies around the net, and replay was inconclusive; they played on, and UMass didn’t allow another goal.

For the senior class, they took their 83rd win after a 5-29-2 season in Amherst the year before they arrived. Four of the would-be seniors are now in the NHL, but for this group, headed by Carvel, the wait was well worth it.

UMass Lowell used a strong defensive effort against Boston University to beat them 2-1 before going full chaos mode in the semi final with Boston College, storming back twice — including from a 4-1 third-period deficit — to win in overtime.

The quiet dominance and high-flying hockey juxtaposition shows a versatile team, but neither of those versions of the River Hawks showed up in Amherst. Instead,

Fittingly, senior Jake Gaudet scored the lone goal 15:32 into the first frame, with assists from fellow seniors Carson Gicewicz and Oliver Chau. After that, no one scored again.

“It’s a cherry on top of the career of those seniors,” said Carvel. “When they chose to come to UMass, we had just lost 29 games… When they got on campus, nobody cared about UMass hockey, thee kids, especially the seniors still here, they committed to doing everything at the highest standard.”

That’s not usually the type of game the Minutemen excelled in all season; they got this far by putting up four goals on Northeastern and five on Providence.

They allowed just two goals in each of those games, and budding star junior goalie Filip Lindberg does have a history shutting teams down. In the lone Minutemen meeting with the River Hawks in the regular season back on January 29, he shut them out, one of four shutouts this season.

The Minutemen also notched five goals in that game. Needless to say, this one was a little different.

The River Hawks showed a flair for the dramatic against Boston College, one of three games where they scored at least six goals this season.

The UMass defense, though, smothered them on Saturday night in a way they hadn’t seen since the River Hawks were shut out on February 20 against Northeastern, one of just two times they were held scoreless all year.

Lowell, though, didn’t make it easy for the Minutemen to move the puck either. The River Hawks held them to six shots in the second frame, but just generated three of their own in that time frame.

The River Hawks didn’t go quietly in the third; they believed they tied it, but replay was inconclusive, and Lowell remained off the board.

The Minutemen held tight the rest of the way, not allowing any late game heroics the River Hawks showed against Boston College just a few nights ago.

It was a championship-worthy effort.

“Two years ago we had a team that was pretty stacked,” said Carvel. “I would guess, yeah, we got a chance to win it all. This year I didn’t know if we had it, but the kids we brought in to the program made us better. I told the kids all the time you get what you deserve, and they deserved to be Hockey East champions.”