For the second time in three years, the University of Massachusetts is playing for an NCAA Division I hockey title.
Garrett Wait's goal at 14:30 of the first overtime gave the Minutemen a 3-2 win over reigning national champion Minnesota Duluth as Thursday night became Friday morning in Pittsburgh.
"It's a great feeling" to be playing for a national championship, UMass goalie Matt Murray said. "Playing hockey is the best thing you can do in the world. It's great to have such an amazing group of guys to share that kind of feeling with. Like I said earlier, they did their part too.
"It was a great team game."
The Minutemen now advance to the Frozen Four's championship game Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena. UMass will play St. Cloud State, a 5-4 winner over Minnesota State in the first game. Nolan Walker's goal with 53 seconds left in the third period broke a 4-4 tie and gave St. Cloud (20-10-0) it's first-ever berth in the national championship game. UMass (19-5-4) was in the championship game in 2019, where the Minutemen lost 3-0 to Minnesota Duluth.
The Bulldogs were seeking to play in a fourth consecutive national championship game and win a third straight title.
While the Minutemen had to be thrilled by the victory, the players and coaches also found out that reinforcements are coming.
Goaltender Filip Lindberg, who backstopped the Minutemen since mid-January and to wins in the Bridgeport Regional, leading goal scorer Carson Gicewicz and third-team goalie Henry Graham will be making the trip to Pittsburgh Friday morning. In a post-game video conference, UMass coach Greg Carvel said the three would be available to play.
However a release from the University said "Adhering to these NCAA standards, all three UMass student-athletes will remain isolated from the rest of UMass’ Tier I personnel upon arrival in Pittsburgh. The trio will test immediately upon arrival and again on Saturday morning prior to re-joining the team for any pregame activities."
"I'm happy to get the band back together," Murray said.
For two periods, Minnesota Duluth controlled play and had the better chances. That seemed to change after Anthony Del Gaizo scored at 8:25 of the third period to tie the score at 2.
UMass came out the aggressor in overtime. In fact, Minnesota Duluth had only one good scoring opportunity. Luke Mylmok, who netted the game-winning goal in the fifth overtime of the Fargo Regional final against North Dakota, got a step on the UMass defense. Matthew Kessel used an extra gear to keep Mylmok from breaking in on Murray.
Eight minutes later, after the Minutemen had spent way too much time — at least for Duluth coach Scott Sandelin — in the Bulldog end, they struck.
Bobby Trivigno, who got the secondary assist on the Anthony Del Gaizo goal, forechecked the puck away from Duluth defenseman Louie Roehl to the right of Stejskal. Trivigno, who played junior hockey with Wait, cycled the puck behind the Duluth goal and came out on Stejskal's left. Trivigno sent the puck through the blue paint to Wait, who was open on the far post. He tucked the puck into the goal, and the celebration began.
"I just saw Trivigno take it around the net. I decided to stop on the back post and put my stick on the ice," Wait said. "Lucky enough, it found my stick. [Trivigno] made a great play."
Trivigno carried the puck along the goal line before throwing it into the low slot. Duluth defenseman Matt Cairns deflected the puck with his skate to Josh Lopina. Zach Stejskal, who had 25 saves in the game, stopped the puck but Del Gaizo cashed in on the rebound.
"The thing I've learned about Anthony is he rises in the NCAA Tournament. Two years ago, he scored our first goal against Harvard and really broke open the dam," Carvel said. "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. That goal he scored, that's what we were hoping for from him.
"That was probably the biggest goal of the year for us, even bigger than the overtime goal, because it felt like the overtime goal was an eventuality."
Carvel said he thought that by running four lines at Duluth while the Bulldogs basically played three lines, the reigning champions started to wear down a little. He also said he thought the Minutemen found an extra gear in overtime, outshooting Duluth 13-2.
"I think the difference was we couldn't get out of our zone," Sandelin said. "When you're playing defense, you run out of gas quick. They did a good job. We knew what they like to do and how they play as far as pressure and keeping pucks alive, playing what we call the ground game. Getting pucks down low and working. Their 'D' did a good job of shrinking the zone and being active, keeping pucks alive as well as being part of their offense. We made a lot of soft plays and couldn't get pucks out."
Now the Minutemen get a day to rest a bit, to practice and to prepare for the Huskies.
"The one thing about this team is they know what makes them good. When they smell blood in the water, I just think they took it up a notch," the UMass coach said of his team. "They all played great down the stretch and in overtime."
Minnesota Duluth 1 1 0 0 — 2
Massachusetts 1 0 1 1 — 3
UM — Zac Jones (Matthew Kessel, Oliver Chau), PP, 15:33. UMD — Tanner Laderoute (Quinn Olson, Connor Kelley), 17:50.
UMD — Cole Koepke (Noah Cates, Nick Swaney), 11:01.
UM — Anthony Del Gaizo (Josh Lopina, Bobby Trivigno), 8:25.
UM — Garrett Wait (Trivigno, Lopina), 14:30.