BOSTON -- It's often said that a hockey team's best player has to be its goaltender.
As Omaha embarked on its first-ever Frozen Four game on Thursday night at TD Garden, Ryan Massa was exactly that.
The senior from Littleton, Colo. made more than a valiant effort between the pipes in a losing cause, stopping 44 of the 47 Providence shots he faced in an eventual 4-1 setback to Providence in the first semifinal of the night.
"I was just proud of the way he battled," UNO head coach Dean Blais said. "And he's done that all year for us. It's just that I thought that they were a better team."
The Friars were certainly the better team from the outset as they held a 16-9 shots on goal advantage in the opening period with Massa equal to each and every task.
Massa was more than equal to the task in the middle frame, stopping all 17 shots that came his way, including a massive flurry at his net front that sent him tumbling onto the ice just before the Friars cracked the scoreboard at 11:02.
"I was cheering just like our fans were. I mean, he made some spectacular saves," Blais said. I felt bad for him, obviously, and the way to go out with a loss. But there's only going to be one happy team after Saturday, no matter who you are.
Junior Trevor Mingoia scored PC's third goal of the night 11:10 into the third period, a quick response to Omaha cutting its deficit in half 24 seconds earlier. He had been snake bitten on several early chances, but cashed in for a one-time shot to Massa's blocker side.
It is easy to get frustrated when a goaltender stands on his head, but PC head coach Nate Leaman credited his team for sticking to the game plan and putting pucks to the net. "I was really pleased with our mental toughness because I thought we could have gotten frustrated but we stuck with it," he said.
The Maverick roster includes seven sophomores and ten freshmen, so the future is bright for the Midwest Regional champions which were making their fourth NCAA appearance.
While Massa's collegiate career is over and his future hockey is to be played at a higher level, he sees the experience of a Frozen Four as a major step towards building a program on the rise.
"Where you have such a heavy freshman sophomore class this stage is anything that's naturally nerve-racking for anyone," Massa said. "For the first time in the school history making it this far in the postseason with a youthful team only bodes well for the future of this program."