The University of Massachusetts hockey team left for Pittsburgh and the Frozen Four on Monday. Tuesday morning, coach Greg Carvel's team got some news that will put it behind the proverbial eight ball.
Four players, led by starting goaltender Filip Lindberg, have been benched due to COVID-19 contact-tracing protocols and according to university policies, will be out of the lineup for Thursday's NCAA national semifinal. It is strictly a contact-tracing issue.
"I feel for these players who have sacrificed so much over the last year and committed themselves to getting our team to this point," said head coach Greg Carvel in a statement released by the school. "They have earned the right to compete for a national championship, and to have this unfortunate situation occur now is hard to comprehend. But, nevertheless it's a result that we have to accept, and we will move forward together and utilize the depth of our roster for Thursday's game in Pittsburgh."
The four are Lindberg, right wings Carson Gicewicz and Jerry Harding and goalie Henry Graham.
The Minutemen will play Minnesota Duluth in Thursday's second semifinal at PPG Paints Arena. The first game will feature St. Cloud State and Minnesota State.
There is nothing in the release that says players will or will not be available for Saturday's championship game, should UMass get there.
Frozen Four practice day is Wednesday, and that is when pregame media availabilities have been scheduled.
The loss of Lindberg and Graham could be particularly vexing for Carvel and his staff, as they are two of the three goalies on the UMass roster.
Lindberg has started every game since a 4-3 loss to Boston University back on Jan. 18. The junior goalie from Espoo, Finland, was especially on point during UMass' victory in the Bridgeport Regional. He gave up an early goal in the Minutemen's 5-1 win over Lake Superior State in the first game of the regional. Then Lindberg pitched a 18-save shutout as UMass beat Bemidji State 4-0 to earn its ticket to Pittsburgh.
Lindberg's shutout streak was 103 minutes, 46 seconds. The lone goal he gave up came of the stick of Lake Superior's Austin Calder at 17:14 of the first period.
The Minutemen rode on Lindberg's back the last time they made it to the Frozen Four. That was 2019.
In the Manchester, N.H. Regional, Lindberg made 17 saves in a 4-0 win over Harvard and 13 saves in a 4-0 win over Notre Dame. In the Frozen Four at Buffalo, N.Y., he made 37 saves — five in overtime — as UMass beat Denver 4-3. In a 3-0 loss in the National Championship game to Minnesota Duluth Lindberg had 28 saves.
In 2020-21, Lindberg appeared in 14 games and started all 14. He had a sterling 1.32 goals-against average, a .946 save percentage and four shutouts, including the Bridgeport-clinching win over Bemidji.
That means junior Matt Murray will have to carry the load between the pipes for UMass.
Murray hasn't had game action since losing 4-3 in overtime at Boston University back on Jan. 18.
At one point, Murray had a seven-game winning streak, which included a pair of shutouts against New Hampshire. After dropping two at BU, Carvel went back to Lindberg, whose hot hand kept him in net until now.
Murray started 13 of 15 games he played in, recording a 2.01 goals-against average. His save percentage was a solid .913, and he had three shutouts.
The loss of Gicewicz may not be as big as the loss of Lindberg, but it may be close.
The redshirt senior, who transferred to UMass from St. Lawrence, scored a natural hat trick in the win over Bemidji. His four goals in the NCAA Tournament leads all UMass scorers.
He is also the top goal scorer on the team with 17, and third in scoring with 17 goals and 7 assists. He trails only left wing Bobby Trivigno (10 goals, 21 assists) and left wing Oliver Chau (5 goals, 20 assists) on the scoring chart. Chau is the left wing on UMass' No. 1 line with Gicewicz and center Jake Gaudet.
Harding skated on UMass' fourth line with center George Mika and left wing Anthony Del Gaizo.