UMass prepares for a Frozen Four rematch with Minnesota Duluth

Minutemen will be without four players due to COVID-19 protocols

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Nina Walat/Daily Collegian

By Colin McCarthy, Staff Writer

It’s the rematch two years in the making for the Massachusetts hockey team. Two years removed from a promising season that ended one game shy of a National Championship. On Thursday, the Minutemen (18-5-4, 13-5-4 Hockey East) have an opportunity to avenge that defeat against Minnesota Duluth, with a trip back to the final up for grabs.

In 2019, UMass took its star-studded group led by Hobey Baker winner Cale Makar into its matchup with the reigning champion Bulldogs (15-10-2, 13-9-2 National Collegiate Hockey Conference). This year, there are no Hobey Baker candidates, but the Minutemen are bringing something equally important: experience. Now they get to remeasure themselves against one of the best teams in the nation.

“We’re very excited to be back here, I feel this team absolutely deserves to be here,” coach Greg Carvel said Wednesday. “It’ll be fun to play Duluth again two years later and see where we’re at. They’re still the standard.”

In a year filled with adversity in college hockey, UMass drew a short straw when four players were unable to make the trip due to a positive COVID-19 case and subsequent contact tracing. Among the four are Filip Lindberg and Carson Gicewicz, who have both been big contributors to the success of the Minutemen this season.

But with this being one of UMass’ deepest rosters in recent memory, it’s not time to hit the panic button just yet, even heading into the biggest game of the year.

“I know people are thinking we’re shorthanded and we’ve lost a couple good players for this game but that’s alright,” Carvel said. “We like our depth, and the next guys will step in and carry on and play the way that we want them to play.”

One of those “next guys” is senior goaltender Matt Murray, who hasn’t seen action for a couple of months while Carvel rode Lindberg’s hot streak in net. But Murray is no slouch in his own right, holding UMass records for most wins and shutouts all time.

And on Thursday, Murray will step between the pipes with confidence, hungrier than ever to make an impact for the Minutemen.

“Over the past four years I’ve made sure to maintain a high work ethic and make sure that I’m ready for any opportunity,” Murray said. “And that’s what this is, it’s an opportunity not only to get back in the net but to be a big contributor to our team’s success.”

Even while he watched the last chunk of UMass’ season from the bench, Murray never became lazy or accepted a backup role. He remained hungry for another chance on the ice.

“I was just really impressed with how hard Matt’s continued to practice when we’ve finally after three years gone to one guy consistently,” Carvel said. “His attitude has been outstanding.”

The Minutemen have played strong defensively and protected their goalies from facing many high danger scoring chances, which if continued will help Murray settle in.

As for the forward group, losing Gicewicz as well as Jerry Harding is difficult to overcome, but help is on the way. Cal Kieifiuk and Eric Faith are returning from injury and helping to fill the gaps in the lineup.

When all is said and done, UMass made it to Pittsburgh, earning the right to play in the Frozen Four, and avoiding near disaster on its way. And that in itself is a win for the Minutemen.

“Just lucky to have another opportunity to actually play,” Carvel said. “We were a little concerned.”

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