BUFFALO – The dream season for UMass will end with a national championship game appearance, thanks to overtime heroics from a reliable defenseman.
Marc Del Gaizo, the linemate of Hobey Baker hat trick finalist Cale Makar, scored on a blast from the left circle to help the Minutemen outlast the Denver Pioneers 4-3 in overtime on Thursday night at KeyBank Center, sending UMass to the national championship game for the first time in program history.
“This team, all year long they’ve impressed everybody. Tonight was just the next chapter of how resilient they are,” Massachusetts head coach Nate Leaman said. “I guess at some point I think tonight in overtime I just felt they were going to find a way, and they did.”
Colin Staub got things started for the Pioneers by scoring a rare power-play goal, but Denver wasn’t much of a threat offensively after that until the last ten minutes of regulation and most of the overtime period. Still, the defense and goaltending kept the deficit from increasing until they rallied.
“I don’t think we got down on ourselves. We didn’t,” Denver head coach David Carle said. “[We] stuck with our game plan in the second and third. Really proud of our effort to be able to fight back [and] get it to overtime.”
After Massachusetts fell behind early, the Minutemen promptly took advantage of some poor discipline shown by the Pioneers, scoring three power-play goals in a span of 1:41 to get the mostly pro-UMass crowd electrified. Both teams lost at least one player to a major and a misconduct in the contest, and two of the three (Niko Hildenbrand of UMass and Ryan Barrow of Denver, both for contact to the head) were gone in the first 12 and a half minutes of the game.
With the struggling power play unit holding the Pioneers back once again, they relied on better even-strength play to tie the game in the third period. After their fourth straight power play on the night came up short, forward Cole Guttman scored twice in a span of 5:43. Denver was re-energized with the sudden spurt, and UMass looked shellshocked as regulation time was winding down.
“We thought we were winning the game,” Staub said. “We were resilient.”
With both teams threatening to score repeatedly in the first 15 minutes of overtime, the Minutemen called a timeout with 5:47 left. About a minute later, UMass won a couple offensive battles and Oliver Chau found Marc Del Gaizo waiting at the top of the left circle, and his sniper beat Filip Larsson over his glove and just inside the post.
Marc was still in disbelief after the game.
“I mean, probably the coolest moment of my life. Right now [it] seems like I’m dreaming. But, I mean, we’re off to the national championship, so that’s all that matters,” he said.
As far as the timeout that preceded it, he said, “It was a smart move calling a timeout there. I think it was just guys tired. It was effective, so it was a good move.”
Discipline and staying out of the box is likely going to be a key factor for the Minutemen as they try to deny Minnesota Duluth a second straight title. Another factor will be fatigue, according to Carvel.
“All I’m concerned about right now is recovery. These guys will reset; we’ll be ready for Saturday night. We’ll come out, flow through. I’m sure some guys are banged up. I don’t know Duluth well. We’re going to have to spend some time watching them,” he said.
Filip Lindberg made 37 saves for UMass, including 18 in the third period and overtime during Denver’s rally. Larsson finished with 24 for the Pioneers.
DU power-play goal at 8:29: Colin Staub (8). Assisted by Kohen Olichefski (6) and Cole Guttman (12).
UMass power-play goal at 11:41: Bobby Trivigno (13). Assisted by Jacob Pritchard (30) and Marc Del Gaizo (16).
UMass power-play goal at 13:04: Mitchell Chaffee (18). Assisted by Cale Makar (33) and Pritchard (31).
UMass power-play goal at 13:22: John Leonard (16). Assisted by Mario Ferraro (12) and Jake Gaudet (14).
DU goal at 10:32: Guttman (13). Assisted by Tyler Ward (10) and Jake Durflinger (4).
DU goal at 16:14: Guttman (14). Assisted by Tyson McLellan (10) and Les Lancaster (6).
UMass goal at 15:18: Marc Del Gaizo (13). Assisted by Oliver Chau (5) and Gaudet (15).
Power plays: DU 1-5, UMass 3-5.
Shots on goal: DU 40, UMass 28.