Horn sounds on UMass hockey's run to NCAA Frozen Four title game
BUFFALO, N.Y. — In the end, the magic ran out.
A historic season came to a disappointing end on Saturday night, as the University of Massachusetts hockey team was smothered for 60 straight minutes en route to a 3-0 loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA championship game.
The Minutemen (31-10-0) never really shifted out of first gear, as a strong, cohesive Bulldog team steamrolled them from end to end.
"They were a more mature team," said UMass coach Greg Carvel. "For whatever reason, our compete level wasn't at the level it usually is.
"We just didn't really get stretches of momentum. I thought actually our fourth line was our best line tonight, created the most offense for us. They're a very good team. I think we looked like a young team tonight. It's a learning lesson. I think our team will take a step forward, having played that team."
The first period was all Duluth, from the puck drop to the buzzer, as the Bulldogs imposed their will over every inch of the ice. For the first time all tournament, a young UMass looked rattled, and the Minutemen were getting bullied by an older brother.
The Bulldogs came out flying with an extremely aggressive forecheck, and forced turnover after turnover deep in the UMass zone. Even when Duluth dumped the puck in deep, it was bouncing into dangerous areas and the Bulldogs were smothering the Minutemen within seconds.
The pressure finally led to the opening goal on the first Duluth power play, as Parker Mackay took a beautiful feed from Mikey Anderson in the slot and snuck a backhand underneath Filip Lindberg's right arm to give Duluth the lead just under four minutes into the game.
The rest of the period was a survival mission, especially after Jake Gaudet went to the box with 1 minute, 23 seconds left in the period. The Minutemen escaped the period down only a goal, having been dominated for 20 minutes. UMass was outshot 14-5 in the first, and only had a pair of decent chances created by the fourth line.
"Honestly, tonight they just out-competed us," said UMass defenseman Cale Makar. "I give them a lot of credit. They just closed down on our wingers very well. We just didn't have an attack for that. We didn't really adjust and unfortunately that's what lost us the game."
The second period was as rough as the first for the Minutemen, who looked as overwhelmed as they have all season. UMass finally started creating chances, but was immediately exposed on the back end — Makar laid a hit at one end of the ice and was well out of position on a Duluth breakaway, then stepped up very late just seconds later on a partial breakaway, both of which Lindberg managed to turn away.
It was a rough night for the Hobey Baker Award winner, who never really established himself. The second period was especially difficult, as along with a pair of defensive lapses, Makar was laid out at the blue line — for maybe the only time in his UMass career — and took another big hit below his own goal line. Makar finished the period in the penalty box after an interference call.
Eventually, the Bulldogs' quick passing found another seam, and Anderson had acres of space in the slot to snap a wrister past Lindberg and double the deficit with 4:12 left in the middle stanza.
UMass had a couple of power play chances in the final period but never created anything significant — the Minutemen had 18 shots all night, and the best chance of the night was a Kurt Keats pass to Anthony Del Gaizo in the slot, and the latter's one-timer was easily brushed away by Duluth goaltender Hunter Shepard.
The Bulldogs' defensive core was spectacular on Saturday night, stifling the Minutemen at every turn, with active sticks disrupting every entry, cutting off every pass, pressuring every puck-carrier and keeping UMass from ever developing a flow.
"I think their six [defensemen] are very, very good," Carvel said. "I was very impressed with their back end. They've got some big guys that are physical. Their puck poise, puck management was extremely, extremely good. Yeah, that's as good of a back end as we've seen this year."
The Bulldogs struck once more in the third, a tight-angle wrister from Jackson Cates that slipped through a tight triangle between Lindberg's blocker, right pad and right post.
It was a formality from there, and the buzzer finally sounded on UMass' magical run.
"It's unfortunate," Carvel said. "I don't think that was our best tonight. I don't mind losing to a good hockey team. Even at our best, I don't know if we beat Duluth. We'll go home knowing that we lost to a better team tonight, for sure."
After what was almost undoubtedly his final game in a UMass sweater, Makar came to the press conference still dressed, the word "Massachusetts" across his chest, to field questions.
"I mean, I just want to keep it on as long as I can," Makar said. "It's a jersey that I'm very proud to wear. Our team has brought so much respect, like I said, to this program. Honestly, it's going to be a couple years that I never forget in my entire life."
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