The Playmaker and the Pest: The duality of Bobby Trivigno
How No. 8 became the versatile Minuteman he is today
February 20, 2020
You’re at the Mullins Center, absorbed in the play of the Massachusetts hockey team when you hear a whistle signal the end of a play. But the action’s far from over.
Suddenly, there’s some extracurricular activity going down near the front of the net after the referee has blown the play dead.
Along with both of the benches and the rest of the crowd, you look to see what’s sparking the commotion, and what you see doesn’t surprise you at all. Like most other nights, there he is, the pest himself: No. 8 in the center of the scrum, being physical, making hits, vying for real estate in the other team’s head.
Because for 60 minutes, that’s who Bobby Trivigno is.
He’s the pest. The guy that’s always stirring the pot. The one that’s constantly in front of the net, standing in harm’s way, blocking the goalie’s eyes, pestering the opposition. Not to mention he’s only 5-foot-8, 150 pounds. Plus, to the chagrin of many, much like a certain No. 63 in Boston, he still regularly wows with his offensive abilities, all while playing the role of the rat.
“It’s real important,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “When you play against guys like that, the whole bench knows it. They turn the game. They find ways to get under your skin. You’d like to have three of four of them, but Trig is often the guy that stirs it up. When he starts knocking guys over, they get frustrated. That’s a great sign your team is controlling the emotion of the game.”
But meet the kid off the ice and you’d have no idea.
All it takes is the flip of a switch. But sometimes when you play with fire you get burned, and sometimes, like a crisp April night last season in Buffalo, you miss the biggest game of your life.
“Something just takes over me,” he says. “I get so competitive, this dog inside of me comes out. That’s my personality, just how I play.”
Coming from a hockey family, it’s all a part of the process that molded him into the immensely effective college player that he is today, but it began long before he arrived in Amherst in 2018.
There’s always been one constant in Bobby Trivigno’s life.
Undersized and the youngest of two kids, it’s always been about full-tilt competition more than anything throughout his 21 years.
Growing up in Setauket, New York, near the northern coast of Long Island an hour and a half outside of the city, that competitive spirit first began to emerge while growing up in the shadow of his older sister, Dana, who had five years on him. But before either of them turned to hockey to channel that energy, anything and everything between the two was winner-take-all — and more often than not, as you might expect, there was an injury involved.
From fighting for the extra snack to deciding on the next board game and anything and everything in between, it was always an uphill battle for the younger brother. Typical sibling rivalry.
“Whatever it was, I dealt with a lot of losing,” Trivigno said.
As the years went on and their shared hockey interests grew, some of their matchups became more serious than others.
“I’d always want to play mini sticks with her, and she’d always win, it just created that sort of competitiveness inside of me,” Trivigno said. “It’s tough, even though she’s a girl, just being five years older than me she was way bigger, she was stronger than me – it motivated me. She always dangled me. I literally stood no chance.”
“That’s just kind of how we are,” Dana said. “[We] enjoy winning.”
In his earliest days with a stick, he had to scratch, claw, basically do anything possible to gain an edge and secure a coveted win.
Although Dana won a majority of the early bouts, she eventually realized that Bobby was catching up, bridging the five-year gap.
“We were always similar, but different players just in the hockey sense,” she said.
As the older sister, she was the two-way center: defensively sound, good on the penalty kill, played all the roles. Bobby, on the other hand, was the finesse winger: a small, shifty player with a knack for scoring and a keen understanding of the game’s flow.
“You could always just kind of tell he was going to be that kind of player,” Dana said. “You always knew he had an extra sixth sense to him where he just understood the game a little bit better.”
That was also around the time when their dad began passing down his old-time hockey ideals. A gritty, old-school mindset.
Bob Trivigno was a New York City police officer and firefighter when the kids were growing up, a longtime Rangers fan who had always enjoyed the game. After years of playing street hockey and taking non-stop shots in his driveway, constantly denting the garage door with pucks, he eventually played in high school. He never played at a very high level after that, but he always retained his passion for it and played in local leagues, even with the NYPD.
So, when he had kids, he passed down his hockey knowledge. He got them skates and lessons early on, coached them through most of their youth and preached the style of play that he knew best.
“Being a pest, being annoying, our dad always told us to play that way,” Dana said. “It was just kind of how you play hockey. Be a pest, be annoying on the ice and then always be the kindest person off the ice – that was just something we grew up with.”
As Dana played more organized hockey in New York, she began showing off her skills in youth leagues, even dominating with the boys. Not long after, she was recruited to play at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, the prep school hockey factory based in rural Minnesota.
In four years in Faribault, she excelled the entire way. Upon graduating in 2012, she returned to the east coast to play at Boston College. When her four years with the Eagles were up, she was the team captain and had 138 career points. She even flashed a few of her famous dangles in the Maroon and Gold.
While Dana was wrapping up her time in Chestnut Hill, Bobby was also beginning to flourish with his development process.
Seeing the path that his sister walked to get to the next level, he embarked on a similar one. Soon enough, he, too, was at Shattuck.
But it wasn’t just his sister’s choice to attend the perennial incubator of hockey talent that drew him in – a place that churned out the likes of Sidney Crosby, Nathan MacKinnon, Zach Parise and Jonathan Toews – it was much more than that.
“I just kind of saw all of her work ethic,” Trivigno said. “Everything she did away from the rink, she was a beast in the gym doing almost the same weight as the guys. Just seeing her hard work.”
At first, the 1,500-mile trip away from home didn’t go to plan.
Aiming to make the U16 Tier One team at the start of his sophomore year, he was dealt a disappointing blow when he was cut from the roster and forced to drop down to Tier Two.
For the entirety of that season, he was determined to show his worth. And to make matters worse, the Tier One team that cut him won nationals as he was on the outside looking in.
“It was really upsetting for my dad, but I used it as motivation. I was just so pissed off. I wanted to be on that team so bad,” he said. “That whole year I was just playing with an F-U mentality, like a chip on my shoulder and it’s always just kind of stuck with me.”
Eventually, as a junior, he made the Tier One team — which repeated at nationals — and his game started to pick up, too. But although he made the team he so badly wanted to make after a year of frustration, in the big picture the damage was done. The underdog role had been solidified and another brick had been laid in the foundation of the player he would continue to grow into.
Soon enough, it was on to something new after Shattuck. But it didn’t always seem that way. As his time out in Faribault drew to a close, he once again looked to the path of his older sister, Dana.
In 2016, he committed to UMass, landing in the same conference that she did. Interestingly enough, it’d been a long time coming.
Turns out, UMass assistant coach Ben Barr had been keeping an eye on Trivigno for quite some time. Barr’s father even used to announce his games when he was at Shattuck. Born in Faribault in 1981 and a Shattuck alumnus himself, Barr always kept local tabs.
“I’ve known Bobby since he was like 10,” Barr said. “His sister played with a girl I coached when I was coaching peewee in Albany, New York in 2005, so we’ve known each other for a long time.”
Safe to say, Barr knew what he was getting in Trivigno as a player.
“He was just super hard-working, gives you 100 percent effort all the time,” he said. “He’s never been the guy that everyone told was the best or the greatest, because he’s a small guy. He’s had to work for everything he’s got and it’s no different here — it’s why he’s a good player.
“Because he just doesn’t take anything for granted, no entitlement. He’s a really hard player to play against.”
Before hitting the collegiate stage, Trivigno played a season in the United States Hockey League. In 58 games with the Waterloo Blackhawks, he recorded 43 points on 16 goals and 27 assists.
“He had a good year for us,” said coach PK O’Handley. “I thought he grew up a little bit here. His play started to improve really in the second half of the season, and he started to get some points.
“He is a pest. He’s got skill for sure, but he’s got to play the pest role because he’s a little bit undersized, and he plays it well.”
When Trivigno arrived in Amherst in 2018, it was a season earlier than expected. He forced their hand.
“He’s one of those guys that, as a coach, it’s really hard not to put him on the ice,” Barr added. “You know his effort is going to be there, and he’s going to make plays, and he’s going to work, and he’s always going to be a pain in the other team’s butt.”
When he got to campus, he realized his favorite number was taken. So, he landed on No. 8 – Dana’s number at BC.
One of eight freshmen in the class, it didn’t take long for Trivigno to make an impact. A week into the season, on Oct. 19, he did it against the top-ranked team in the entire country, no less.
Squaring off with No. 1 Ohio State on the road, he scored a pair of goals, the first of his career, to key a major 6-3 upset, the first of several program-defining wins for the Minutemen of 2018-19 that resulted in their deepest playoff run in program history.
Entering the OSU series in the first month, Minuteman head coach Greg Carvel already dubbed the freshman “a little rat.”
The rest of the season, he was an invaluable asset. On a team full of stars, he made an impact every single night. Whether it was a flashy move or some immeasurable play, he always came up big.
“It’s kind of crazy – he’s the smallest guy on our team by probably 40 pounds and I have him in the front of the net on the power play,” Carvel said. “It doesn’t really add up, but he’s effective.”
With the Minutemen in their first-ever Frozen Four, the freshman came up clutch once again. Trailing 1-0 against Denver in the first period of the national semifinal, Trivigno, doing what he does best, set up shop in the dirty area of the ice right at the top of the blue paint on a two-man advantage. Blocking the goalie’s eyes, he tipped Jacob Pritchard’s one-timer past Filip Larsson to tie it 1-1.
Just over a minute later, UMass took a 2-1 lead when Mitchell Chaffee wired a snapshot into the back of the wide-open net. Once again, there was No. 8: posted up, jostling for position.
But just as one key aspect of his game reached its pinnacle, so too did the other. While his playmaking abilities were starting to fire on all cylinders, his physical, pesty nature came to a peak as well.
After the pair of sudden power-play goals, UMass added another on the advantage to build a 3-1 lead, but the Pioneers rallied back and scored twice in the final minutes of the third to tie it again.
Less than 30 seconds after Cole Guttman’s second of the period knotted it up, Trivigno received a bouncing puck on a cross-ice feed from Pritchard inside the neutral zone. Right in front of the benches with Michael Davies hot on his trail, Trivigno poked it away back over the red line. As he went to retrieve it, he looked up and saw Jake Durflinger coming at him from the other side.
In an instant, he left the ice, making elbow-to-head contact with Durflinger. It wasn’t called a penalty and it wasn’t reviewed, and in the end, after regulation and half of overtime had depleted, UMass won and advanced to its first-ever national title game.
But just as many suspected, and what was then confirmed the next day, Trivigno would not be playing in that game: suspended for the national championship against the two-time defending NCAA champs, Minnesota-Duluth. He didn’t find out about the league’s ruling until the next morning prior to morning skate.
“Carvy called me in and I knew as soon as he called me in, I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ I was a mess,” Trivigno said. “I wanted to play so badly, and I felt so bad for putting my teammates shorthanded. He basically told me, ‘go out and practice and bring good energy,’ so that’s what I tried to do, but watching the game was terrible.”
At the conclusion of morning skate, the Minutemen huddled up around Trivigno in a tight-knit circle at center ice before making their way off the sheet and disappearing into the locker room.
Prior to the news going public roughly 12 hours after the semifinal, Carvel praised Trivigno at his media session following morning skate and gave a hint to how key his absence would be.
“Another blue-collar kid that you want on your team,” he said. “He’s 5-foot-8. I watch him weigh in. It’s always: see if he got up to 150 or not. That’s after every other kid is 200, 205. He jumps up there. I love him. He’s tough as nails, scores big goals, plays in every situation … As coaches, there’s certain kids you want on your team. Bobby is one of those kids. Plays the game on edge. He knocks down as many guys of the opponents as anybody on our team. We’ll always start video every Monday showing good, physical hits. He’ll knock down three guys a game. He’s 5-foot-8, 148 pounds, scores goals, goes to the front of the net; does it all.
“We’re very fortunate to have him. Unbelievable player.”
The Minutemen ended up losing to the Bulldogs, and it’s a night that Trivigno will never forget from high up in the stands, helpless to do anything but watch the loss; on the outside looking in.
“I felt so bad,” he said. “It killed me. I was sick to my stomach the whole game … It was almost like instinct. I thought he was going to hit me so I kind of went on the offense. I looked around and didn’t get a penalty, so I was like ‘oh, alright’ and then I saw it on the bench, and I was just thinking ‘that was pretty bad. What did I just do?’ I had a pit in my stomach, I felt terrible. I felt bad for my teammates, how I put them in that situation and I just felt guilty. I wanted to say sorry to him, but I just felt terrible about it.”
Although she was going to be there regardless, Dana was with him in the stands the next night, sitting by his side for support.
“We kind of chit-chatted back and forth,” she said. “But I think he learned from it. We talked about how you can’t control what happens, but you can control your actions going forward.”
Trivigno is still his same old self 10 months removed from the suspension, but he’s backed off a bit. This year, as teams, players and refs have realized who he is, how he plays and what often makes him effective, he’s had to manage his game.
“He had such a good freshman year, he contributed so much offensively, and that kind of hasn’t been the case this year,” Carvel said. “He was a very physical presence last year, and he’s got away from that a little bit too, but when he’s playing physical, finishing checks, holding onto pucks and staying on his feet, being a pain in the ass to play against, that’s when he really helps out our team.”
“I think it’s been a struggle for him at times to straddle that line,” Barr added, “but he’s done a good job. His effort’s always there. I think he’d probably tell you he wishes he was having a better year, but we see him as a heart and soul guy that brings it all the time.”
Even with the down production, the winger boasts 17 points on seven goals, and according to Leonard, their chemistry on the second line is clicking at a rate that it’s never seen before.
“Right now, we’re playing really well, knowing where each other are on the ice and that just comes with more practice and more games and repetition, but I love playing with him,” Leonard said. “He’s an undersized guy that just works hard on every shift and you know what you’re going to get out of him every single time.”
Plus, Hockey East’s leading goal scorer likes the pest on his line.
“It’s huge,” Leonard said. “For the most part every team has a guy like that, but Trig’s one of the best at it. He also has a ton of skill. He’s got a good shot, great vision — just an overall great player.”
He’s still working it out, balancing the duality — the playmaker and the pest — but he’s never not going be that brand of player: the one that can shift the momentum of a game at any moment.
The suspension may have altered his game a bit for the time being, but you can’t change No. 8. It’s in his nature to compete.
“He always wants more,” Dana said. “He’s hungry. He wants to be up there in the points, he wants to be the guy that’s looked to in certain situations, he wants to be on the penalty kill, he wants to be on the power play. He’s very driven in that sense. That’s just who he is. He’s always trying to get that much better to be that much more of a threat every single time that he has the puck.”
“You know,” he said with a pause,
“I don’t think anything’s ever been given to me. I feel like I’ve always earned it and hard work’s kind of the focus of that.
He just hopes the hard-working attitude that’s got him this far never gets him sidelined again and maybe, just maybe, if all things go according to plan, he’ll get another shot at playing in the biggest game of his life — if, and when, the opportunity arrives.
Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @_LiamFlaherty.