UMass faces St. Cloud State in National Championship on Saturday

Minutemen get back three players missing from Thursday’s win

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Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Colin McCarthy, Collegian Staff

The months of sacrifice and preparation for the Massachusetts hockey team have all led to this: A second consecutive trip to the National Championship, and a chance to hoist the trophy for the first time in program history on Saturday.

The only thing standing in UMass’ (19-5-4, 13-5-4 Hockey East) way? St. Cloud State (20-10, 15-9 National Collegiate Hockey Conference), one of the hottest teams in college hockey.

“St. Cloud has earned its way to the championship game, so we know they’re going to be a tough opponent, a tough team to beat,” coach Greg Carvel said. “But we also believe that we’re a tough team to beat.”

With experience under their belt, the Minutemen are preparing much differently for this year’s National Championship than they did back in 2019. After defeating Denver in overtime of that year’s semifinal, Carvel had UMass up and working the following morning. But that is not the case this time around.

“We ran around on this day last time around, we practiced, had the Hobey Baker ceremony… Today the kids are resting,” Carvel said. “That was one of the big things we learned, so the experience is critical.”

The players seem to appreciate the rest too.

“I think more time in bed is going to be huge for a game tomorrow,” Anthony Del Gaizo said. “Last night was definitely a grudge match, we’re all sore, so we’re all getting those extra hours of sleep.”

The Minutemen battled through adversity to even make it to this point in the season. Outside of the normal season long struggles that come with competing during a pandemic, UMass saw its season nearly end prematurely after a positive COVID-19 test threatened to keep the team from making its trip to Pittsburgh.

And even when they found out they were allowed to travel, the Minutemen were without four players on Thursday—including their top goal scorer and starting goaltender.

But advancing to the final game meant enough time for Filip Lindberg, Carson Gicewicz and Henry Graham to clear contact tracing protocols and drive down, returning to the team and preparing to suit up on Saturday.

Having Gicewicz, UMass’ leading goal scorer, back in the lineup will be key, particularly in adding depth to a forward group that had been slightly depleted Thursday. The transfer will slot back into the top line alongside Oliver Chau and captain Jake Gaudet.

And with that, one of the heroes for the Minutemen in their semifinal matchup, Anthony Del Gaizo, will slide back down the lineup and provide some relief for Eric Faith and Cal Kieifiuk— who both made their returns from long term injuries against Minnesota Duluth to help round out the fourth line.

UMass will have to battle a Huskies play style that it isn’t used to seeing in the neutral zone, a trap similar to what it faced in the HEA Championship game against UMass Lowell. Combating that will be a point of emphasis for the Minutemen.

“Usually, teams are coming pretty aggressively at you, they’re playing a style right now that’s sit back and let you make mistakes and counter,” Carvel said. “We haven’t really seen that a lot and we’ll have to be ready for it or we’ll pay the price in transition offense.”

The Minutemen will take the ice for one final time on Saturday at 7 p.m. with another chance to cement their legacy as National Champions.

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