UMass advances to Frozen Four with 4-0 win over Bemidji State

Carson Gicewicz earns first career hat trick against the Beavers

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Nina Walat / Daily Collegian

By Colin McCarthy, Collegian Staff

BRIDGEPORT, Conn— The Massachusetts hockey team punched its ticket to Pittsburgh, earning a spot back in the Frozen Four with a 4-0 win over Bemidji State on Saturday in the regional final.

No. 2 UMass (18-5-4, 16-5-4 Hockey East) put emphasis on playing a cleaner and less sloppy game against the No. 4 Beavers (16-10-3, 8-5-1 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) than it had against Lake Superior State the night prior. Despite the 5-1 win in that game, the Minutemen knew they had to play better, and they did.

“I thought that was a very dominant game, very thorough game by our group,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said after the game. “Came out and set the tone and played very strong defensive hockey.”

And in the first period on Saturday, it looked like UMass was executing its plan well. Through 10 minutes, the Minutemen controlled the pace of play and out-chanced Bemidji State in the offensive zone.

But the penalty bug bit again, and suddenly UMass faced a 5-on-3 penalty kill. That quality opportunity could have swung the momentum in favor of the Beavers. But instead, it went the other way.

The Minutemen killed the rest of their first penalty off with ease, and when they got back on the 5-on-4, they created an odd-man rush the other way. Oliver Chau found Carson Gicewicz for a shorthanded goal.

“Our penalty kill does a great job, we didn’t give much up,” Carvel said. “They had a 5-on-3 that we were able to kill off and then score, and that was a big turning point.”

With energy on its side, UMass tacked on another goal before the first frame reached its end, once again courtesy of Gicewicz. The St. Lawrence transfer finished with three goals, earning his first career hat trick at an opportune time.

“To get one on a stage like this, and for all of them to be where I didn’t have to do much just goes to show how solid of a team we have,” Gicewicz said. “If you’re standing in the right spots, the guys will find you every time.”

Having established a significant lead already, the Minutemen saw Bemidji State claw for some momentum in the closing stages of the middle period, bombarding Filip Lindberg with close-range shots.

But the junior netminder turned away all of the Beavers’ attempts to get on the scoreboard on his way to a shutout— the third of his career in the NCAA Tournament.

Oliver Chau tacked on an empty net goal in the third period, securing a victory for UMass.

The only low point of that final frame was a game misconduct called on Philip Lagunov with under three minutes left. The major penalty for contact to the head sent the senior out of the game and will likely lead to a suspension.

With the win on Saturday, UMass earned a return to the Frozen Four, where it nearly walked away with the National Championship just two years ago.

The Minutemen have not forgotten the heartbreak they suffered at the hands of Minnesota-Duluth in 2019. But they return with something they didn’t have back then: experience.

“You have to have senior leadership leading the way this time of year, your best players and your oldest players,” Carvel said. “Jake Gaudet’s really taken a big step forward these last couple games… That line was so effective this week.”

There is no doubt that the talent level on the ice in 2021 is not equal to the NCAA runner-up team led by NHL superstar Cale Makar. But UMass has plenty of players with playoff experience from that team, and that has been on display so far this postseason.

Jake Gaudet and Oliver Chau played some of their best hockey of the season in Bridgeport, and Lindberg has come a long way as a goaltender since he started in the tournament as a freshman.

The Minutemen will continue to ride that experience into Pittsburgh on April 8 in their semifinal matchup. They will find out the rest of the teams joining them on the grand stage when the regional finals end on Sunday night.

Colin McCarthy can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @colinmccarth_DC.