UMass prepares for Minnesota in first round of NCAA Tournament

The Gophers are coming in as a No. 2 seed

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Dylan Nguyen / Daily Collegian

By Sophie Weller, Collegian Staff

The Massachusetts hockey team is gearing up and preparing to face off against a determined Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

UMass (22-12-2, 14-8-2 Hockey East) is coming off an overtime win against Connecticut in the Hockey East championship, capturing the Lamoriello trophy for the second year in a row. After a few days of celebration, the Minutemen now look to the tournament, with hopes of repeating as national champions.

Head coach Greg Carvel and the Minutemen praised defensemen Aaron Bohlinger for his efforts on Friday’s semifinals win over UMass Lowell, and on Saturday came back to score the game winning goal. He only has three goals in his UMass career, two of which have been during championship games, however.

“He plays the game the right way,” Cal Kiefiuk said. “He’s not the biggest guy, but he plays like it, and he always does little things. He’s a really hard worker on and off the ice. He is always doing extra work and stuff like that.”

The Gophers (24-12, 18-6 Big Ten) are coming into the tournament with a similar record, however, they were not as successful in their conference tournament. Minnesota narrowly defeated Penn State in the semifinals but lost to Michigan in the championship. In the NCAA tournament, it will see many familiar faces, having matched up against most of the other qualifying teams throughout the regular season.

“We’re trying to be extra detailed,” Ryan Ufko said about the focus in practice this week. “They’ll be really good, but [it’s] just like a normal week. Preparation and just getting ready for them.”

In program history, UMass has played against the Gophers four times, all resulting in a loss. The last meeting was in 2016 where Minnesota dominated, winning 4-1, during Carvel’s first year as coach of the Minutemen.

Garrett Wait began his collegiate experience in Minnesota but transferred to UMass for his junior year, playing a pivotal role in its national championship run. Growing up, he and his family were cheering on the Gophers but now their alliance has shifted.

With 12 goals and 12 assists this season, Wait has earned his role playing on the top line with Trivigno and Josh Lopina. Wait scored a lot of goals in the USHL and experienced playing with Trivigno in the juniors, which caught UMass’ and Carvel’s attention.

“We thought it was a good risk for us, and it turned out to be a great situation for us,” Carvel said about the decision to recruit Wait. “He’s done a really nice job. He does the little things that a lot of people probably don’t notice, but we do as a team, as a staff.”

On Monday, the Hockey East announced weekly awards with UMass picking up three out of the four recognitions.

“Well earned,” Carvel said. “It’s the time of the year where you want to see your players get recognized, because if they are, you’re having a really good season.”

Trivigno won Player of the Week after rounding out the weekend with three points, two goals and one assist. For the first time all season, Bohlinger picked up Defender of the Week due to his efforts in the two games. Matt Murray was named the Goaltender of the Week after stopping 41 of the 43 shots he faced over the weekend, recording a .953 save percentage. With the Minutemen’s win on Saturday, Murray beat the previous record, that was also set by him in 2018-2019, for most single-season victories at 21.

“[Murray] has elevated his play down the stretch,” Carvel said. “That’s a big reason for our success lately.”

UMass will travel only 58 miles to Worcester for the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

“Shortest we’ve ever had to travel to play an NCAA game,” Carvel said. “I think it’s a good situation for us. I hope it feels like the Garden did on Saturday night where we had a strong following and strong UMass support.”

Puck drop is set for 6:00 p.m. at the DCU Center.

Sophie Weller can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @SophieeWellerr.