Experience helps guide UMass to second straight Hockey East championship

Minutemen’s past postseason success proves too much for UConn

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Dylan Nguyen/ Daily Collegian

By Colin McCarthy, Assistant Sports Editor

BOSTON — When the Massachusetts hockey team looks at Connecticut, it’s like a window into the past.

Where the Huskies (20-16, 14-10 Hockey East) ended up on Saturday is a similar position to where UMass (22-12-2, 14-8-2 HEA) was just three seasons ago: a young team on the rise, but one that lacked experience in big moments. And the Minutemen used that to their advantage in the Hockey East championship game, beating UConn 2-1 and capturing their second straight conference championship.

“It was kind of like last year against [Minnesota] Duluth in overtime, we felt like it was just a matter of time before we were going to score to win,” head coach Greg Carvel said after the game. “I’m so happy for our program and for our kids.”

UMass knew exactly what to expect on Friday and Saturday night. It knew the TD Garden would be louder than any environment most of the Minutemen had ever played in. Aside from the few seniors that were on the ice in the 2019 national championship game, nobody in UMass’ lineup played in a packed NHL barn before Friday night. But it wasn’t Carvel’s first time, and he had a game plan for how to prepare for that moment.

“We felt that talking about it was important, so we talked about it all week,” Carvel said of the environment. “We did some things in practice, we cranked some music one day and tried to make it a distraction, didn’t tell them we were going to do it, just [did it] in the middle of the drill.”

In the semifinal and final rounds, the Minutemen relied on their experienced players to carry the load. Captain Bobby Trivigno scored two goals over the weekend and led the offense, Colin Felix and Ty Farmer played sound defense, Anthony Del Gaizo brought physicality and Matt Murray anchored the net. Having leadership from players who have been in these situations and knowing exactly how to handle the pressure was necessary.

Four of those Minutemen, Trivigno, Wait, Murray and Felix, were named to the HEA All-Tournament team, headlined by Trivigno’s back-to-back HEA tournament MVP award. That veteran experience is something the Huskies did not have going for them.

Throughout its entire time in the HEA conference, UConn has never made a postseason run like the one it went on this season. In fact, before its quarterfinal victory against Boston University, it hadn’t even won a Hockey East playoff game. So, although the Huskies didn’t get the result they were looking for on Saturday night, the experience of being there will be crucial for the future of their program.

“We’re still relatively young … the league is 37 years old and we’re only eight years in,” UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh said after the game. “The last three years we finished in the top-5 in the league … I think that says something on consistency and where the program is going.”

UConn will miss the NCAA tournament, but it gave UMass a run for its money. At the end of the night, though, the more experienced team hoisted the Lou Lamoriello trophy and earned an automatic qualifier into the regional tournament.

“You have to lose before you can win,” Carvel said. “We lost here in 2019 in the semifinal game [and] we learned a lot. I’m sure UConn will probably be here next year.”

Colin McCarthy can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @colinmccarth_DC.