UMass hockey downs Denver in OT, advances to national championship game

Marc Del Gaizo lifts UMass to a 4-3 victory with OT winner

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UMass hockey downs Denver in OT, advances to national championship game

(Jon Asgiersson/Daily Collegian)

(Jon Asgiersson/Daily Collegian)

(Jon Asgiersson/Daily Collegian)

(Jon Asgiersson/Daily Collegian)

By Mollie Walker, Assistant Sports Editor

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BUFFALO, N.Y. – The Massachusetts hockey team lives to see another day. A national championship day.

A 3-1 deficit in the final period was not going to stop Denver (24-12-5) from clawing its way back for a chance to compete for their ninth national championship. It took under six minutes for Cole Guttman to singlehandedly send the semifinal match-up into overtime for the first time since 2013.

And as they have time and time again this season, the Minutemen (31-9) found a way. But you can’t overuse a storyline if that’s exactly what happens every time.

After 15 of the extra 20 minutes withered away, Marc Del Gaizo caught a slick pass from Oliver Chau and smashed the puck home to punch a 4-3 victory ticket to the NCAA championship game this upcoming Saturday.

“I mean, probably the coolest moment of my life,” Del Gaizo said in the post-game press conference. “Right now seems like I’m dreaming. But, I mean, we’re off to the national championship, so that’s all that matters.”

Coach Greg Carvel knows that the Minutemen have dazzled a lot of people this season, including himself. And standing behind the bench in overtime, he knew they’d find a way to pull out the win.

“This team, all year long they’ve impressed everybody,” Carvel said. “Tonight was just the next chapter of how resilient they are. I thought overtime, we were down, we lost two players, two forwards, playing three lines. We went deep into that overtime period.

“We played three lines for almost two periods, and the kids dug deep, once again, proved the resiliency, proved the culture that we have on our team is our strength and carries us, and it did again tonight.”

Denver finished with a 40-28 shot on goal advantage, which played out heavily in the second and third periods. Both teams had five man-advantage opportunities with the Pioneers capitalizing on one while the Minutemen buried three power play goals.

UMass netminder Filip Lindberg made 37 saves in his fifth straight start, facing double-digit shots in two of the four periods played. Filip Larsson turned aside 24.

“You need the goaltender. You need him to make saves,” Carvel said. “I’ll be honest, I thought the two goals in the third period weren’t great goals. He’s got to make those saves.

“Either kid in the net, You can’t give up more than two goals. Get 10 breakaways, 10 power plays, you can’t give up more than two goals. That’s their standard.”

Despite an encouraging start with dominant puck possessions, the Minutemen took a low blow early when captain Niko Hildenbrand earned a five-minute major and an ejecting game misconduct just over six minutes into the first.

Two minutes into the man-advantage and the Pioneers swarmed Lindberg, who got caught scrambling in the crease. Jake McLaughlin threw himself on the goal line to absorb a couple shots before Colin Staub jabbed it home for the first tally of the night.

Shortly after, Jarid Lukosevicius took a penalty, and then Ryan Barrow joined him in the box after an illegal hit to Del Gaizo’s head that got him tossed from the game as well. At the 11:41 mark, Bobby Trivigno buried a hard wrister off a feed from Jacob Pritchard to knot the game at one.

But the Minutemen were able to squeeze an extra goal out of the five-on-three advantage, working the puck around before Mitchell Chaffee sent it to the back of the net from between the circles. 18 seconds later, John Leonard made it a 3-1 contest with a slap shot from the same place Chaffee took his.

The second frame saw relatively even play from both benches, with Denver holding a small shot advantage. As the period progressed the physicality grew, and prompted Chaffee to lay a monster hit on Denver’s star defenseman Ian Mitchell, paving his way to the locker room as the second Minuteman to exit early.

“That’s two very difficult guys for us to lose,” Carvel said of Chaffee and Hildenbrand. “Those are our two biggest players. Mitch Chaffee, he’s a heck of a hockey player. To lose him… we lose Niko five minutes into the game. Luckily you can dress an extra forward. Then you lose Mitchell, we become a smaller team.

“The only upside now is those two guys will be buzzing on Saturday night. Believe me, that was the hardest two hours of their life sitting in the locker room watching their teammates play.”

The major would carry into the final frame, and then UMass would commit two more penalties. But the Minutemen managed to kill all of them off, before Cole Guttman cut Denver’s deficit to one off a snipe that blew over Lindberg’s shoulder.

In the final frame, the Pioneers refused to go quietly. They generated a handful of quality chances before Guttman swiped the puck past Lindberg to make it a 3-3 game.

In a season of firsts, UMass will be taking the national stage for the first time in program history, taking on Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs are chasing their third NCAA title after appearing in the championship four times in program history.

Mollie Walker can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @MollieeWalkerr.