PITTSBURGH — Massachusetts forward Garrett Wait talked after Thursday’s national semifinal game against Minnesota Duluth about “big boy pants.”
The expression refers to extra skating sessions that UMass players go through after practices throughout the season in the hopes of further conditioning the team.
That conditioning paid off for the Minutemen, and Wait in particular, as the transfer from Minnesota buried a pass from linemate Bobby Trivigno at 14:30 in overtime to give UMass a 3-2 victory over Minnesota Duluth.
The win advances UMass to the national championship game for the second consecutive Frozen Four where they will take on St. Cloud State, a 5-4 winner over Minnesota State on Thursday.
Despite being dominated at times over the first two periods and parts of the third, UMass ended up having more left in the tank down the stretch, particularly in overtime. UMass was outshot 21-11 over the first two periods and outscored 2-1.
But after Anthony Del Gaizo tied the game at 8:25 of the third, UMass dominated the extra frame, holding a 13-2 advantage in shots.
“Duluth is the best team we’ve played this year,” said UMass coach Greg Carvel. “They play a heavy style that we’re not used to playing against.
“After the second period I urged the players to realize it’s going to take more. And I thought the kids did a great job in the third period.”
Down the stretch of regulation and into the overtime, UMass continued to roll four lines while Minnesota Duluth shortened its bench.
“The one thing about this team is that they know what makes them good,” Carvel said. “And when they smell blood in the water, they all take it up a notch. I’m looking at the bench in overtime and the next line up, every time they were well rested.”
Coming into Thursday’s game, the dominant story line was not the players on the ice but those missing from the UMass lineup. The Minutemen had four players in COVID protocol after single a positive player test last Friday. That included starting goaltender Filip Lindberg and top goal scorer Carson Gicewicz.
That thrust Matt Murray into the starting role in net for the first time since Jan. 18 and also elevated Anthony Del Gaizo to the top line alongside Oliver Chau and Jake Gaudet.
Both players impacted the game. Murray stopped 36 of the 38 shots he saw, while Del Gaizo scored the tying goal.
After the game, Carvel announced that both Lindberg and Gicewicz, along with third-string goaltender Henry Graham, will fly to Pittsburgh on Friday and be available for the national championship game.
Minnesota Duluth took a 2-1 lead into the third period on the only goal of the middle frame off the stick of Cole Koepke. It came on a scramble in front of the UMass net. Murray lost his goal stick as Koepke first attempted to shoot. That shot was blocked by the UMass defense but Koepke’s second attempt went high blocker side for the 2-1 lead.
Prior to Thursday, Minnesota Duluth was 10-1-1 when leading after two periods and had been dominant in this tournament in recent years when taking a lead.
But Del Gaizo, who entered Thursday with just a single goal, put himself in great position to bury a rebound when both Josh Lopina and Trivigno each had whacks at the puck.
“Well, the thing I’ve learned about Anthony is that he rises in the NCAA Tournament,” Carvel said. “He scored two years ago our first goal against Harvard, really broke the dam.
“And he was the guy to go up and take the place of Gicewicz, because Anthony’s played as heavy as anybody. We know he’ll go to the net. We know he’ll finish hits. We know he’ll be a pest to play against.”
After a stalemate early between these two defense-first clubs, UMass opened the scoring in the first on the power play when Minnesota Duluth’s Tanner Laderoute was whistled for holding at 14:57.
It didn’t take long for the Minutemen to score as offensively-talented defenseman Zac Jones fired home his ninth goal of the season from the left point as Gaudet set a great screen in front of Zach Stejskal (25 saves).
Laderoute atoned for the penalty just minutes later when he outmuscled UMass defenseman Aaron Bohlinger for a loose puck in the crease, tucking it past Murray.
When UMass and St. Cloud State face off in Saturday’s championship game, a first-time champion will be crowned. More significantly, though, for the first time since 2017, it won’t be Minnesota Duluth that is hoisting the trophy. Certainly a bittersweet moment for coach Scott Sandelin and his club, but even he admitted what this team has accomplished in the last five seasons — four straight Frozen Four appearances and two national titles — is quite significant.
“We fought some of the odds and got back here,” said Sandelin. “I told them to be proud of the accomplishment. It’s a very difficult thing to do. Sometimes the highs are unbelievable and the lows are really low. But you can learn from every and use it as motivation to get back here next year.”