Forced to start in the Frozen Four, Matt Murray cemented his legacy at UMass

The senior netminder added one more win to his name when it mattered most

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Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Noah Bortle, Sports Editor

PITTSBURGH—Minnesota Duluth had all the momentum. It felt like the Massachusetts hockey team just couldn’t get the puck out of its zone for large stretches of the second period.

Despite that, Matt Murray made stop after stop after stop.

The senior netminder stopped at least three odd-man rushes in the second period of a game he wasn’t even supposed to be playing in. Even then, it was Murray who was the only thing standing between the Bulldogs and three goals.

Everything looked like it was heading towards a storybook ending to a storied career for Murray. He’d been thrust into a start due to COVID protocols that made Filip Lindberg unavailable on the biggest stage—the Frozen Four—and was playing exceptionally.

“When you haven’t played in three months—and I think its been about that long since he started a game,” Carvel said, “but when you don’t have live game, it’s hard.”

He wasn’t in net his sophomore year when UMass went on its run to the national final and he hadn’t been in net for its run so far this year. But now, given the opportunity, he was leaving his mark.

The only thing was the storybook wasn’t being written according to plan.

UMass couldn’t muster much offense, only netting one goal through the first two periods of play. And while Murray had done everything he could to keep UMD off the board, it wasn’t enough against the onslaught of shots he was seeing—26 in the first two periods alone.

The career leader in wins for the Minutemen was doing everything he could to add one more tally next to his name in the record books, but when the horn sounded on the second period, it just wasn’t panning out that way.

Murray wasn’t perfect. It was never really a question as to whether he would add on to his program record number of shutouts. The first goal he surrendered he couldn’t be faulted for. A bouncing puck got to the back door and was put away before he had a real chance to react. The second goal was more stoppable. A shot without too much traffic that he seemed to track just a hair too late.

“Losing a couple players up front, we can overcome that… It was the goaltending that I was concerned about,” Carvel said about the four COVID-related absences on his team. “Just that Matt hadn’t played in so long. He’s a good goalie and he made the saves he needed to tonight.”

Either way, UMass found itself in a 2-1 hole and were lucky the deficit was only one, having been completely outplayed.

Then, with just over 11 minutes left in the game, UMass made its goaltender’s efforts worth it when Anthony Del Gaizo put home a rebound to tie the game at 2-2.

With the Minutemen’s season—and Murray’s career—hanging precipitously in the balance, one goal away from going home, No. 31 once again answered the bell.

Just minutes after the game was tied, Jesse Jaquez danced his way around Zac Jones on a 1-on-2 opportunity. Murray stood tall in the face of the shot, denying the chance. It was more of the same as the period progressed; UMD would generate a chance and Murray would shut the door, often times absorbing rebound chances in the process.

As the period came to a close, Murray turned one more shot aside, sending UMass to overtime and keeping his storybook ending alive. All in all, the senior netminder had turned aside 34 of the 36 shots he saw in regulation—a .944 save percentage.

In overtime, the Minutemen made sure their goaltender wouldn’t have to work quite as hard. The ice stayed tilted in UMass’ favor for much of the extra frame.

Whenever it looked like Murray might have to come up with another big stop, a Minuteman would dispossess the puck and send pressure back the other way.

“At that point honestly, I was kind of in the zone,” Murray said. “They had a partial breakaway and one of our guys caught him from behind and it just shows how hard those guys are working. And they really made it a lot easier than it probably could have been for me.”

It all culminated in Garrett Wait ending the game—tucking a wraparound Bobby Trivigno pass into the back of the net—making Murray’s wait worth it. Tying up the netminder’s performance with a bow and sending the Minutemen to their second-straight National Championship Game.

“It’s quite a story,” Carvel said, “to be able to overcome that situation of losing that many players. Everything tonight was a testament to the culture of this team. I’m very proud of them.”

Noah Bortle can be reached at [email protected] He can be followed on Twitter @noah_bortle.