While Matt Murray noted that he wasn't expecting to be thrust into a starting role in the NCAA Division I Frozen Four, the University of Massachusetts goalkeeper said that come Thursday night, he'll be ready.
"Ever since the last time I played, it's always been making sure I've been pushing myself in practice, on and off the ice at the rink," Murray said, "just to make sure that I am at my best whenever that time is needed."
Murray will backstop the Minutemen in Thursday's second national semifinal at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh. The Minutemen (18-5-4) will play Minnesota Duluth (15-10-2) in the 9 p.m. doubleheader nightcap. It's a rematch of the 2019 championship game that Duluth won 3-0.
The first game will begin at 5 p.m., and will feature St. Cloud State (19-10) against Minnesota State (22-4-1). Both semifinal games will be broadcast on ESPN2. The championship game will be played Saturday at 7, and will be seen on ESPN.
Murray had to step into the starting lineup because Filip Lindberg, who has started every game since Jan. 18, was one of four UMass players who had to stay behind in Amherst due to COVID-19 contact tracing. Lindberg, right wings Carson Gicewicz and Jerry Harding and third-string goalie Henry Graham are all in the Pioneer Valley. UMass coach Greg Carvel said he did not know if any would be available for a potential National Championship game.
"Over the past few years, I've gained a lot of experience and grown a lot, both on and off the ice," Murray said. "I think a big part was to make sure I was one of the hardest-working guys on the ice, even if I was playing or if I wasn't. That's given me a really good grounding for this weekend."
Murray went 9-2 in his first 11 starts before being in the net for home-and-home losses to Boston University The senior from St. Albert, Alberta, had a 2.01 goals-against average, a .913 save percentage and four shutouts. Murray is 51-27-2 with 11 shutouts over his UMass career. The 51 wins and 11 shutouts are tops in UMass hockey history.
"I hate to call him a backup goalie because he owns the record for most wins and shutouts in our program's history," Carvel said. "I'm not concerned about the goaltending. I'm concerned about the team in front of him. Hopefully, he has an easy night because the team in front of him plays well.
"If we have to rely on our goaltender to make a lot of saves, we won't win the game."
With Lindberg and Graham on the shelf for Thursday's game, Zac Steigmeyer will suit up as the UMass backup goalie. Steigmeyer is a Ludlow native who played high school hockey at Pope Francis in Springfield, where he once backed up Quinnipiac goalie and Detroit Red Wings prospect Keith Petruzelli. Steigmeyer is a student equipment manager, and had been fully COVID cleared to not only make the trip, but to put on a sweater with the number 1 on it.
Murray said the friendly competition with Lindberg has made him a better goaltender.
"Obviously, you want to be the guy playing," Murray said. "Filie and I have had nothing but good, healthy competition for our time together here at UMass. There are no complaints from my end at all. I've had my opportunity and he's had his. This is one of my opportunities that I need to take full force with and take advantage of."
UMass' Matt Murray will be the second Matt Murray to lead a team onto the ice at PPG Paints Arena. Current Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray has his name on two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The UMass Matt Murray was a minor celebrity in Pittsburgh back in 2019, when he and Bobby Trivigno attended the Penguins' Development Camp.
"This is my first skate here at PPG," UMass' Murray said. "When Bob and I were here a few years back, it was at their practice facility. He can attest to it too, it was a great experience, and it was a great learning curve for my experience."