Hockey East Finals Preview

Reading, MA – The stage is set for the Hockey East Finals at TD Garden on Saturday at 7:00 pm. Massachusetts Minutemen’s defending champions will face-off against the Connecticut Huskies in the 37th edition of the conference’s championship. It’s the third time in Massachusetts history and the second straight visit for the Minutemen. The Huskies are making the first trip to the conference finals in school history. 

The Huskies downed Northeastern 4-1 in the early game on the strength of two Chase Bradley assists, and 24 saves by Darion Hanson

Massachusetts bested UMass-Lowell 3-1 in the nightcap on the backs of Matt Murray’s 22 saves and two first-period goals from seniors Garrett Wait and Bobby Trivigno. Wait, a 6′-0″ Edina, Minnesota native, had a goal and an assist in the win.

The Huskies are the new kid on the block, and the Minutemen are the wily veterans. Massachusetts head coach Greg Carvel summed it up perfectly. “They’re (UConn) kind of having a coming-out party this year. Hopefully, we get to put an end to it.”

The two schools split their regular-season series, each winning on the other team’s ice. Massachusetts won 2-1 at the XL Center in Hartford, CT., on February 18, 2022. The Huskies returned the favor 4-2 at the Mullins Center the next night. Wait had two assists in the UMass win. Sophomore Ryan Tverberg had a goal and two assists in the Huskies’ victory. 

Saturday’s championship can be a goaltender battle between two graduate students, each with over 100 career starts, or it can be an offensive shootout as each team has numerous NHL prospects capable of chasing a goalie from the game.

Look for a low-scoring affair as each coach will try to play to their strengths. The two are similar from the net out. Hanson and Murray have comparable stats, and each stands over six feet tall. Hanson is slightly taller, 6′-3″ to Murray’s 6″-1″, and both can steal a win for their squads. 

On defense, the Minutemen have more firepower than UConn. Each prides itself on being disciplined and plays heavy. The Minutemen have two defenders that lead the league in assists, a pair of freshman to boot, Ryan Ufko and Scott Morrow. 24 for Ufko, a Nashville Predators pick, and 20 for Morrow, a Carolina Hurricanes prospect. The duo sets the pace for the Minutemen attack. 

UMass also has Matthew Kessel and Aaron Bohlinger to push the pace of play on the back end. Kessel, a junior, is a St. Louis Blues pick, while Bohlinger, a sophomore, gets better and better as the season progresses. Ty Farmer and Colin Felix pack a punch defensively. Farmer can play the finesse game but has become more of a physical presence over his four years at UMass. Felix, a 6′-1″ senior assistant captain from Ocean City, NJ., is a warrior.

“We have some real gutsy kids,” said Carvel, singling out Felix’s effort to close out the River Hawks. “What he did at the end of the game, he made a huge block, then a huge hit, got a huge cut on his face. He’s playing with a broken finger. You want kids like that.”

“He is just the ultimate warrior for us,” added Carvel of Felix. “He has been for four years. All Colin Felix does is play in championship games. He’s been here four years and he’s played in a number of championship games. He’s a big reason why.”

Saturday will be Felix’s fourth championship game as a student at Massachusetts. Two NCAA championship games and two Hockey East championship games.

“That shift when he made a big block, then took a big hit,” Carvel said. “His face is bleeding, blown up, but he loves it…he’s a unique kid and you needthose kids to win.”

“It’s very important to have the guys put their bodies on the line, especially when they’re not wearing the gear that I do,” Murray said when asked about the Minutemen blocking 21 UML shots. “It shows your character. It shows how determined they are. I have so much respect for all the guys in front of me. They step in front of those kinds of pucks. I wouldn’t be able to have success without those guys.”

Massachusetts celebrates Jerry Harding’s first goal of the season in the Minutemen’s 3-1 win over UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East Semifinal at TD Garden on Friday, March 18, 2022.

The Huskies are more of defense by committee, defense-first at the back. There is only one NHL prospect on the Huskies’ blue line, Carter Berger, a 6′-0″ junior Florida Panthers prospect. Berger was the extra defender for the Huskies against NU on Friday. John Spetz and Harrison Rees facilitate for the Huskies; each has 13 and 10 assists, respectively. Rees, Roman KinalJake Flynn, and Jarrod Gourley bring the physicality for Mike Cavanaugh‘s bunch.

“I think they have been great all year long,” said Cavanaugh of his defensive corps. “We might not have an all league kid back there, but we’ve got seven and together, the way they play together it’s just fun to watch. I just love how consistant they’ve been night in and night for us.”

What the Minutemen have on defense in terms of NHL prospects, the Huskies have on offense. Tverberg, a Toronto Maple Leaf pick, leads UConn with 14-18-32 for a statline. 6′-5″ senior Jachym Kondelik and his 12-21-33 line trail Tverberg. The Czech is a prospect in the Predators organization and causes chaos in front of opposing goalies. Vladislav Firstuv is third on the Huskies in scoring, 11-11-22, and is a Minnesota Wild prospect. 

The undrafted trio of seniors Marc GatcombJonny Evans, and center Carter Turnbull don’t have the pedigree or the numbers, but they set the tone for the Huskies’ attack. Bradley, a Detroit Red Wings pick, and Nick Capone (Tampa Bay Lightning) anchor the Huskies’ fourth line. 

Massachusetts has a timely offense powered by Hockey East Player of the Year Bobby Trivigno. The 5′-8″ senior from Setauket, NY has a knack for scoring big goals. As does linemate Josh Lopina. Lopina, a 6′-2″ center, is an Anaheim Ducks prospect with a 12-15-27 statline. Wait also has the capacity for big goals in big moments. 

The Minutemen get contributions from Cal KiefiukAnthony Del GaizoReed Lebster, and Lucas Mercuri. Del Gaizo, a senior from Basking Ridge, NJ., is another player with a flair for the dramatic. Freshman Ryan Lautenbach has been contributing steadily as the Minutemen season chugs along.

Prediction: The Minutemen weather a Huskies attack but ultimately pull out the win to secure their trip to the NCAA tournament, and keep their name at the bottom of the Hockey East banner at TD Garden while adding to their growing collection at the Mullins Center. 3-2. 

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