UMass hockey team defeats Denver in overtime to advance to national championship game

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Heading into overtime, the University of Massachusetts men's hockey team was in trouble.

The Minutemen had blown a 3-1 lead in the final 10 minutes of the third period of Thursdays's Frozen Four matchup against Denver, and after the Pioneers made it 3-3 to send the national semifinal to overtime, they had all the momentum.

Enter Marc Del Gaizo.

The freshman defenseman caught a pass from Oliver Chau at the top of the left circle and smoked a one-timer past Denver goaltender Filip Larsson to send the Minutemen to their first-ever national championship game.

"I mean, probably the coolest moment of my life," Del Gaizo said. "Right now seems like I'm dreaming. But, I mean, we're off to the national championship, so that's all that matters."

"This team, all year long they've impressed everybody," said UMass coach Greg Carvel. "Tonight was just the next chapter of how resilient they are. I thought overtime, we were down, we lost two players, two forwards, playing three lines. We went deep into that overtime period. We played three lines for almost two periods, and the kids dug deep, once again, proved the resiliency, proved the culture that we have on our team is our strength and carries us, and it did again tonight."

The game opened on a wild first period, as the teams combined for four goals, six penalties and two game misconducts in the first frame.

After captain Niko Hildenbrand was hit with a five-minute major for a hit to the head, the Pioneers capitalized on the extended powerplay when Colin Staub forced home a rebound, despite an initial diving save from defenseman Jake McLaughlin, to make it 1-0 after 8:29.

From there, the first was all UMass.

With Jared Lukosevicius and Tyson McLellan sitting in the Denver penalty box, the Minutemen were ruthlessly efficient on the 5-on-3, as Jacob Pritchard fired a one-timer from the right dot for Bobby Trivigno to redirect past Filip Larsson to tie it up at 1-1 at 11:41 of the first.

It took all of 83 seconds for UMass to strike again, once again on the 5-on-3. Less than a minute after the UMass goal, Denver's Ryan Barrow caught a five-minute major and a game misconduct of his own — with McLellan still in the box — to put the Minutemen back up two skaters.

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The second goal was a thing of beauty, as some tic-tac-toe passing between Pritchard, Cale Makar and Mitchell Chaffee left Larsson swimming in the crease and set Chaffee up to fire the Minutemen ahead.

Eighteen seconds later John Leonard made it 3-1, and in the span of 101 seconds, UMass went from down its captain and down a goal to firmly in control.

The second period was far less eventful than the first, save for a game misconduct issued to Chaffee that put UMass down another forward.

"That's two very difficult guys for us to lose," Carvel said. "Those are our two biggest players. Mitch Chaffee, he's a heck of a hockey player. To lose him, we lose Niko five minutes into the game. Luckily you can dress an extra forward. Then you lose Mitchell, we become a smaller team.

"The only upside now is those two guys will be buzzing on Saturday night."

The Minutemen were poor in the third, sitting back and absorbing pressure all period to try and protect the lead. It backfired, as Cole Guttman struck twice in five minutes — a wrister blocker-side that Lindberg never saw, before going five-hole out front — to tie it up at 3-3 with just under four minutes left.

In the locker room before overtime, Makar said that "nobody's panicking. We knew when we got the opportunity on the ice, we'd put one in. Fortunately [Del Gaizo] did for us."

The overtime was end-to-end until both teams started to tire. Carvel used his timeout late in sudden death, and a minute later, Del Gaizo buried one.

"For some reason in overtime, I just felt fine," Carvel said. That's coming off a third period where obviously we were outplayed and they had the momentum. I went into the locker room as soon as we came off the ice, the body language, the hanging and the mopiness. I said, fellas, done. Change. One goal, next goal wins. I'll give them credit. That's as resilient as you can be. Give up a two-goal lead late in the game. I think both goals were in the last five minutes of the game. So for them to come out, I thought Denver, second and third [periods], was the better team, we were better in the first, then we were better in the overtime. That's a hell of a sign. This team again, they've done things all year long that have impressed people, impressed me.

"I guess at some point I think tonight in overtime I just felt they were going to find a way, and they did."

The Minutemen will play for a national title on Saturday at 8 p.m. against Minnesota Duluth. Minnesota Duluth defeated another New England team in the semifinals, dropping Providence 4-1.


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