PITTSBURGH – A mere four seasons after winning just five games in Greg Carvel’s first season at the helm, he has delivered the University of Massachusetts their first championship in school history.
The Minutemen took advantage of early St. Cloud State mistakes, jumped out to an early lead and played tremendous defense to roll over the Huskies 5-0 on Saturday night in the NCAA championship game.
Two years after falling to Minnesota Duluth in the title game in Buffalo, UMass was able to avenge that defeat on Thursday night thanks to a dominant overtime, and their suffocating defense, outstanding goaltending from Filip Lindberg (25 saves) and opportunistic offense Saturday proved to be too much for SCSU to overcome.
“We have a really deep team,” Frozen Four Most Outstanding player Bobby Trivigno said. “Our D did a great job tonight. It was a group effort in the D zone, and it takes a lot to shut out a team.”
Carvel, who took over as UMass head coach prior to the 2016-17 season, only won five games in his first season. But he brought the program to the national championship game just two seasons later in a remarkable turnaround, and after the Covid pandemic canceled last year’s tournament, he promptly delivered the first title in school history this season.
“I got lucky with the people I surrounded myself with,” Carvel said. “It’s who you surround yourself with what you accept from them.”
David Hrenak made 17 saves for SCSU, who appeared in their first title game in just their second Frozen Four appearance with both being in Pittsburgh. After taking advantage of nearly every opportunity presented to them in their win over Mankato on Thursday, the Huskies could not do the same on Saturday. Instead, it was the mistakes they themselves made that in essence helped the Minutemen take control early in the contest.
Still, it’s a season St. Cloud State can be proud of. The Huskies were unranked in the preseason polls and were picked to finish 4th in the rugged NCHC. But they salvaged a second-place finish behind a loaded North Dakota team, played valiantly in a hard-fought loss to UND in the conference title game and received a #2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Only once in the school’s history had they advanced to the Frozen Four prior to this season, and never before had they reached a title game. Head coach Brett Larson and his group have plenty to be proud of despite falling short of the national championship.
“The number one thing we told them was we were really proud of them and we love them,” Larson said. “They’re a great group of guys. They’ve stuck through a lot this year.”
SCSU got off to a good start controlling play and keeping their forecheck established, but the game turned in favor of UMass after a turnover and two Huskies collided at the blue line. Aaron Bohlinger and Ryan Sullivan came in 2-on-0 and Bohlinger finished with a tap-in for his first collegiate goal, giving the Minutemen a 1-0 lead.
UMass dictated the pace of the game throughout the rest of the period and made it 2-0 after a backdoor feed by Cal Kiefiuk deflected off a Husky to the stick of Reed Lebster. Despite the unfortunate turn of events for the Huskies, Larson didn’t believe his guys were out of it yet.
“We liked our game. We thought we had a ton of jump,” he said.
The Minutemen kept rolling through the second period, stifling the Huskies with outstanding defense and a terrific penalty kill. On SCSU’s second power play, Philip Lagunov took the puck, put a beautiful deke on SCSU defenseman Nick Perbix and beat Hrenak five-hole to make it 3-0.
“We thought if we got the first one in the second period, we’d be right back in the game,” Larson said. “Unfortunately, that’s where we had the miscue in the power play, ended up giving up a shorthanded goal and the momentum went the other way from there.”
Matthew Kessel later made it 4-0 on a power-play snipe from the slot.
Trivigno concluded a brilliant tournament with a third-period laser from the top of the left circle after the Huskies were caught making a poor line change. Trivigno, who was on the UMass roster two years ago in the title game but did not play due to suspension, made the most of his chance this time.
“It’s crazy. Just where I was two years ago to now, as far as emotionally, is worlds of difference,” he said. “And I’m just so grateful I got to play and be part of this amazing team, amazing program, amazing school. I’m just grateful for everything.”
Lindberg, a Minnesota Wild draft pick who had a terrific season with a .946 save percentage, a 1.33 goals allowed average and a 9-1-4 record prior to Saturday night, didn’t even know he’d able to play until less than 48 hours prior to the game. He had been left behind due to being in close contact with somebody who may have had Covid. He talked about his emotions on how everything transpired starting from the day he found out, saying it was one of the worst days he’s ever had.
“That was a nightmare. But obviously there’s nothing we could have done about that,” said Lindberg, who became the first non-North American goaltender to win a championship. “But I’m so thankful that we got the opportunity to play here.”
Carvel was very impressed on how his top goaltender completed a marvelous turnaround from a year ago.
“He was very inconsistent and to me it was because mentally he would get whatever, anxious. But he dealt with that. And he found a way to fight through it. And boy, was he good.”
After a long, trying season for UMass – and really every team in the country this year – Carvel is looking forward to sitting back, taking in his accomplishments from this year and his tenure as UMass coach, and moving forward.
“I tell you what, I’m completely spent,” he said. “The whole Covid has been tough on everybody. It’s been demanding, and you run on adrenaline through these times.
“But I know I’m going to go hide out for a few weeks and reset.”
The victory snaps a streak of four straight national championships coming out of the NCHC (North Dakota in 2016, Denver in 2017, Minnesota Duluth in 2018 and 2019), and it’s the first for the Hockey East Conference since Providence beat rival Boston University in Boston in the 2015 title game.
UMass concluded their season with a 20-5-4 record, including an 11-0-3 record over their final 14 games dating back to January. St. Cloud State finished 20-11.
UMass goal at 7:26: Aaron Bohlinger (1). Assisted by Ryan Sullivan (4) and Ty Farmer (3).
UMass goal at 18:56: Reed Lebster (11). Assisted by Cal Kiefiuk (7).
UMass shorthanded goal at 5:10: Philip Lagunov (4). Unassisted.
UMass power play goal at 13:45: Matthew Kessel (10). Assisted by Oliver Chau (22) and Jake Gaudet (8).
UMass goal at 6:00: Bobby Trivigno (11). Assisted by Reed Lebster (1).
Power plays: SCSU 0-3, UMass 1-2.
Shots on goal: SCSU 25, UMass 22.
All-Frozen Four Team
Nathan Smith (Minnesota State Mankato)
Bobby Trivigno (UMass)
Nolan Walker (St. Cloud State)
Zac Jones (UMass)
Matthew Kessel (UMass)
Filip Lindberg (UMass)
Most Outstanding Player:
Bobby Trivigno (UMass)