Hildenbrand rallies UMass hockey to regular season title

Captain’s speech inspires Minutemen to 4-2 win over Merrimack


(Photo by Caroline O’Connor)

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

NORTH ANDOVER—Sometimes an impassioned speech is all it takes.

Down 2-1 to Merrimack after a wacky second period, the Massachusetts hockey team needed a lift at Lawler Rink.

Insert captain Niko Hildenbrand.

“Niko stepped in in the second intermission and he said some words that we needed to hear and I think that was the turning point for us,” Matt Murray said.

Indeed it was. The Minutemen scored three unanswered goals in the final frame to take the 4-2 win as well as the Hockey East regular season title—a first in program history.

“It was him just saying that he believes in every single one of us and that we all know that we can get this done,” Murray added about Hildenbrand’s message. “It’s just buckling up and giving it everything because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of these guys and this is our moment to take it.”

Less than four minutes into the third period, Bobby Trivigno tied the game on a shot that trickled through Warriors goalie Craig Pantano at 3:52.

Eighteen seconds later, Jake Gaudet redirected a Cale Makar point shot to regain the UMass lead at 3-2.

A Makar empty-netter from center ice sealed the comeback win for the Minutemen, all coming off the heels of a talk from the captain.

“I thought he was our leader tonight,” coach Greg Carvel said of No. 19. “He had a huge blocked shot in the first period, was vocal all throughout the game and you need that. You have good teams, but the great teams have great leaders and he stepped up for us tonight.”

Hildenbrand finished the game with two shots on goal and two blocks, however his impact on the outcome extended far beyond the stat sheet.

“I think our guys just needed to take a couple steps back and realize where we were at,” Makar said. “We started to get too jumpy after probably the first period and I think Niko really stepped up in between periods and I give him a lot of credit and I said that in the locker room as well.”

The second frame saw 10 penalties called between the two squads that included some 3-on-3 action in there as well, but neither team took advantage off all the open ice.

“It was a weird game, it was a strange game,” Carvel said. “We came out and scored early and I thought ‘alright we came with the right mindset’ and the second period was…I don’t know nobody really knew what was going on. But we reset after the second, came out in the third with a really good first couple of shifts, got rewarded for it and we hung on from there.”

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.