Hildenbrand shines in UMass’ 3-1 win over Providence

The senior scored two goals in the third period

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Amelia Shaw/Daily Collegian

By Evan Marinofsky, Assistant Sports Editor

Niko Hildenbrand hobbled into his postgame press conference Friday night with an icepack around his knee. It was a usual look for the senior captain who plays as bruising a game as anyone on the Massachusetts hockey team. Many of his games are spent blocking shots as well.

That’s part of life for No. 19 on the third line.

But on Friday night, his role changed. He was moved up to play between speedster John Leonard and skilled Bobby Trivigno. Greg Carvel didn’t know it at the time, but by putting him up with those two, he was promoting Hildenbrand to hero, as his two third period goals elevated UMass (17-9-2, 10-6-2 HEA) to a 3-1 victory over Providence (14-8-5, 8-7-2 HEA).

“It is,” Carvel said of Hildenbrand’s night being a special one. “He’s a kid that for four years, he’s blocked a lot of shots, he’s walked out of a lot of rinks with ice packs, not a lot of goals. Very rewarding for me to see him score the big goals.”

Hildenbrand’s heroics came at the perfect time for UMass. The Minutemen were two periods through one of their best games this year and they still only had one goal despite 31 shots. They looked like they were still snake bitten and no matter how well they played, the scoring problems would win out for the fourth consecutive game.

But just under four minutes into the final frame, Zac Jones wristed one towards the Providence net and Hildenbrand got just enough of it to get it past Friar goalie Michael Lackey to make it 2-1 UMass.

“Our line was pressing all game,” Hildenbrand said. “I thought we had a lot of good chances and it was just one that finally broke through.”

Less than a minute after his first goal of the game, Hildenbrand was the benefactor of his new linemates’ chemistry.

John Leonard zipped into the zone and brought the puck around the net. He pivoted and spun it towards the net, where Bobby Trivigno received the pass and shoveled it across to Hildenbrand who put it over an outstretched Lackey to make it 3-1.

His celebrations for each goal was different but conveyed one similar emotion: elation.

“You see the excitement – boy was he excited,” Carvel said of Hildenbrand on his two goals. “We were all happy when he scored that second goal in the third. You really enjoy seeing that emotion flood out of him and he absolutely deserves it so very happy for him.”
“Yeah, he’s always working hard,” Trivigno said of Hildenbrand. “He’s a captain – he leads by example. He’s been dialed in on the penalty kill all year and tonight he got what he deserved.”

The week leading up to this game was one of reflection for the Minutemen. Carvel called a meeting with the captains on Monday and wanted to challenge them. He wanted the captains – Mitchell Chaffee, Jake McLaughlin and Hildenbrand – to go to the team and get them fired up.

“We had hard practices,” Carvel said. “We raised the level of practice and those guys’ attitudes every day. They were tough practices. It’s great when you see your team enjoying tough practices. That’s a really strong sign.”

Judging off the Minutemen outshooting the Friars 36-15, the meeting with the captains and the hard practices paid off.

Carvel credited the captains.

“The best teams, you have to have good captains,” he said. “You have to have strong captains. Tonight was an example of how effective strong captains are.”

So, then it was fitting for Hildenbrand – one of those captains – to come through as much as he did on Friday night.

Another thing for Hildenbrand is he’s a senior; he doesn’t have many of these special moments left with UMass. All of this will come to an end shortly and he’ll be on the real world’s doorstep in no time.

But on Friday night, he started, scored two goals and had a completely different role.

And as for choosing between his usual icepacks or the two goals he scored?

“I’ll take an icepack all day,” he said.

Evan Marinofsky can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @emarinofsky.