Pittsburgh, PA. – It took 14:30 of overtime, but the Massachusetts Minutemen knocked off two-time defending Champion Minnesota Duluth to earn a return trip to the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championship. Garrett Wait knocked in a loose puck at the side of the Bulldogs net to ensure a 3-2 win for the Minutemen in front of 3,660 at PPG Paints Arena.
This will be the second straight title game for Greg Carvel‘s club, after avenging their previous Finals loss to Duluth in Buffalo 3-0 in 2019.
Zac Jones got the Minutemen on the board with a power-play goal at 15:33. The sophomore defenseman unloaded a shot from the top of the left circle that beat UMD goalie Zach Skejskal at the far post. Oliver Chau and Matthew Kesselassisted on Jones’ ninth goal of the year.
The Bulldogs tied it at 17:50 on a bouncing puck in the Minutemen crease. Minnesota Duluth forward Tanner Laderoute outmuscled UMass defenseman Aaron Bohlinger in the crease as the puck bounced off goalie Matt Murray (36 saves) and fell just over the goal line before Laderoute could whack it across.
Junior Cole Koepke put the defending champs ahead at 10:59 of the second period when he hauled in his own rebound and beat Murray for his third goal of the season.
Later in the period, Stejskal made two big saves, the first on a Reed Lebster breakaway and then on a follow-up attempt by Cal Kiefiuk.
Anthony Del Gaizo tied it at 2-2 with a rebound in front of Stejskal at 8:25 of the third period. Josh Lopina and Bobby Trivigno assisted on Del Gaizo’s third goal of the year.
After letting the two teams play all night, the refs pulled out the whistles in the final two minutes of play. UMASS and UMD traded Cross-Checking penalties, first Massachusetts’ Kessel and then Minnesota Duluth’s Kobe Roth.
During the four-on-four, the Bulldogs had a bid that slid just to the side of the post, where a UMD player was unable to corral the puck.
In overtime, the Minutemen dominated the game. They controlled play at both ends, and a good majority of it took place in the Bulldogs zone.
“For two periods, Duluth is the best team we’ve played this year,” said Carvel. “They play a really heavy style that we’re not used to playing against. And I think for two periods, we struggled with it. I don’t know if frustration is the right word. But what we usually do just wasn’t working. And so, after the second period, I really urged the players to realize that it’s going to take more. And I thought the kids did a great job in the third period.”
Carvel credited all four of the Minutemen lines’ effort and the work they’ve put in this season.
“As the game wore on, Duluth, it felt like they were only playing three lines. We were trying to match. And it seemed like they were just rolling three lines. We felt like we had four lines going. So, we kept rolling four lines the whole game. When it got to overtime, and as we found more confidence in our game and more aggression, being more aggressive in our play, we were getting them stuck in their defensive zone, and that really wears you out when you have to play in your own zone for a long time. The overtime was pretty lopsided.”
“Anytime you lose, at this point, you know this group has won a lot. But I also want to credit Greg and his team. I mean, obviously going through what they’ve gone through, they’ve had a great year,” said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin. “They got better as the game went on and certainly got the play at the end. But I couldn’t be more proud of our team. To get back here, it’s not an easy thing to do. And to be able to do it four years in a row, basically, it still leaves a bitter taste of losing the game. But certainly proud of our group.”
UMass will take on St. Cloud St. Saturday night. One of the two schools will come away with their program’s first-ever NCAA National Championship.