It isn't often that a team has a lot of time to take in the fact that it's a national champion. The University of Massachusetts hockey team got that chance Saturday night, and made the most of it.
"It still doesn't really feel real, honestly," UMass captain Jake Gaudet said after the Minutemen rolled past St. Cloud State 5-0, to win the first NCAA Division I hockey championship in school history.
"To have a game like that, where you kind of with five minutes left, we met up and [coach Greg Carvel] is telling us we're national champions," Gaudet said, in a post-game video conference reporters from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. "It's an unbelievable feeling just to get here again, and to seal the deal, I can't even describe it."
Two years ago, the Minutemen stood on the blue line in Buffalo as Minnesota Duluth took the plaudits for winning the NCAA championship. After last year's tournament was canceled because of the outbreak of Covid-19, the Minutemen got back into the tournament as the Hockey East Tournament champion.
Carvel's squad won the Bridgeport Regional and then beat Duluth in Thursday's semifinal, before getting five goals from five different players en route to a dominating performance.
"I don't know what to say. It's crazy. It's pretty unbelievable," said UMass wing Bobby Trivigno, who scored the game's fifth and final goal and was voted the Most Outstanding Player of the Frozen Four. "I'm so happy for this group. Watching the clock tick down, we earned this win for sure. I'm just so happy to be part of it, so happy to be part of a great program.
"It's just the best feeling in the world right now."
To describe UMass' win as decisive might be an understatement.
UMass got scoring from players on all four of its lines, got solid defense, and a shutout performance from goalie Filip Lindberg. Lindberg made 25 saves for his second shutout of this NCAA Tournament. It extended Lindberg's shutout streak in the NCAA Tournament to 162 minutes 46 seconds. It also was the seventh consecutive game that UMass had given up two or fewer goals. Lindberg also lowered his NCAA-best goals against average to 1.33 and raised his save percentage to .946.
And to think that Lindberg almost didn't get to start in this game. The goalie had been quarantining for nearly a week due to Covid-19 contact tracing. He, along with leading scorer Carson Gicewicz and goalie Henry Graham got permission to come to Pittsburgh and were in uniform Saturday night.
Lindberg had one big save in the first period, stopping Zach Okabe in the high slot. Lindberg also had a little bit of puck luck, when a shot from St. Cloud's Veetin Miettinen rattled off the crossbar. Miettinen and Lindberg are both from Espoo, Finland.
"I was not going to lie, I was pretty nervous" watching the 3-2 overtime win over Minnesota Duluth in Thursday's semifinal, Lindberg said. "It was something else, just sitting back and watching the guys play when you want to be there and you want to help the team and you want to be a part of that. There's literally nothing you could do just watch. I was really nervous and had to take a walk too, outside.
"We got the job done, and I'm so happy."
The Minutemen were also the 10th Hockey East team to win an NCAA D-I title, and the first since Providence did it in 2015.
The game also had two of the more spectacular goals fans would see on the ice.
UMass got what proved to be the game-winning goal at 7::26 of the first period. As the Minutemen were clearing their defensive zone, St. Cloud defenseman Seamus Donohue "blew a tire" and fell to the ice, taking defense partner Nick Perbix out too. That left a pair of freshmen, defenseman Aaron Bohlinger and right wing Ryan Sullivan all alone
heading into the Terriers' defensive zone. The two-on-none finished when Sullivan put the puck on Bohlinger's stick, and the defenseman from Walden, NY, beat goalie David Hrenak to his stick side for the goal. It was Bohlinger's first career college hockey goal.
Reed Lebster made it 2-0 with 1:04 left in the first period. Cal Kiefiuk carried the puck around the net from the left side to the right, and sent the puck through the blue paint to the far post where Lebster fired hit home.
The goal of the night, the goal of the Frozen Four and the goal that crushed St. Cloud's spirit came early in the second period. Sullivan had less than a minute to serve a tripping minor when the St. Cloud power play made a fatal error. The puck was sent from down low to the left point, but Philip Lagunov had a full head of steam when he collected the puck off the boards. He flew into the offensive end and then made a move that had to be seen to be believed.
Lagunov had St. Cloud defenseman Nick Perbix, all 6-foot-4, 200 pounds of him, to his inside. Lagunov tucked the puck between Perbix legs, skated around the big defenseman and recovered the puck. Lagunov then backhanded the puck under Hrenak. It found the five-hole and the back of the net. It was 3-0, and that proved to be a bridge too far for the Huskies.
"To be completely honest, it happened really fast, so I kind of blacked out," Lagunov said, in response to the first question of his media session. "The guy was diving down toward me, so I used my space to beat him. It all happened really fast."
Was the goal something Lagunov practiced?
"Maybe that move I brought over from the Pavel Datsyuk Hockey School camp back home from Yekaterinburg [Russia]," Lagunov said with a laugh. "We had talked a lot about five-hole goals and trying to spread the goalie open over the past few months. I guess, in terms of actually putting it in, that was put in practice."
Those three goals, and a fourth that came off a Matthew Kessel slapshot at 13:41, give UMass a 4-0 lead at the end of two periods.
"We didn't get a lot of shots in the first period. I think it was 7-3 for them. But our main goal was O-zone time," St. Cloud coach Brett Larson said. "We didn't want to have to wear down in our end defending too much. I thought we carried that territorial advantage in the first period. We thought if we could get the first [goal] early in the second period, we'd be right back in the game. Unfortunately, that's where we had the miscue on the power play and ended up giving up a short-handed goal, and the momentum went the other way from there."
In addition to Trivigno being named the Frozen Four's Most Outstanding Player, Lindberg and defensemen Kessel and Zac Jones were named to the All-Tournament team, along with St. Cloud's Nolan Walker and Minnesota State's Nathan Smith.
"My vision was never win a national championship. My vision as to build a program that great pride could be taken in," Carvel said. "I feel like we won this the right way. We didn't take shortcuts. We didn't cheat the game at all. We did it absolutely the right way. In the last four years, we've gotten better and better every year.
"I'm very grateful for the people who laid the groundwork so we could get to where we are."
St. Cloud State 0 0 0 — 0
Masssachusetts 2 2 1 — 5
UM — Aaron Bohlinger (Ryan Sullivan, Ty Farmer), 7:26. UM — Reed Lebster (Cal Kiefiuk), 18:56.
Penalties — UM: Anthony Del Gaizo (Slashing), 15:27.
UM — Philip Lagunov (unassisted), 5:10, SH. UM — Matthew Kessel (Oliver Chau, Jake Gaudet), 13:45.
Penalties — SCS: Seamus Donohue (Tripping), 0:24. UM: Ryan Sullivan (Tripping). Jake Gaudet (Elbowing), 10:31. SCS: Bench Minor (Too many men on the ice), 12:35.
UM — Bobby Trivigno (Lebster), 6:00.
Shots — SCS 3-12-10 25. UM 7-6-9 22. Saves — SCS: David Hrenak 17. UM: Filip Lindberg 25.