UMass prevails in OT to reach NCAA final vs. Minnesota Duluth

Defenseman Marc Del Gaizo scored the game-winning goal for the Minutemen with 4:42 left in overtime.

UMass Denver NCAA Hockey Frozen Four
Massachusetts beat Denver 4-3 in overtime in the national semi-finals Thursday. The Minutemen will face Minnesota Duluth in Saturday night’s championship game. –The Associated Press

BUFFALO — The magical ride that has been the 2018-19 hockey season for UMass was perilously close to being over. The Minutemen had squandered a 3-1 lead in the third period and were now headed to overtime with Denver, and coach Greg Carvel did not like what he saw in the locker room heading to the extra session.

“I went into the locker room as soon as we came off the ice. I saw the body language, and the hanging, that mopiness,’’ said Carvel. “I said ‘Fellas, done. Change. One goal, next goal wins.’ ’’

Defenseman Marc Del Gaizo heeded the call, scoring the winner for the Minutemen with 4:42 left in overtime on a blistering slap shot from inside the blue line on the left to lift UMass to a 4-3 win over Denver. With the goal, the Minutemen advanced to Saturday night’s NCAA title game for the first time in program history.

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“This [is] probably the coolest moment of my life,’’ said Del Gaizo, a freshman from Basking Ridge, N.J. “Right now, it seems like I’m dreaming. But we’re off to the national championship, so that’s all that matters.’’

The Minutemen will face Minnesota Duluth, which defeated Providence, 4-1, in the first semifinal.

“Marc’s a hell of a hockey player,’’ said Carvel. “I was on him, because every time he got the puck on the blue line tonight, he wanted to dipsy-do spin around. That looks good until the other team is skating up the ice with it. I said ‘Shoot the puck’. He had no choice on that one. He hammered that one.’’

Denver forced the overtime when freshman Cole Guttman scored a pair of goals in the final 10 minutes of the third period to draw the Pioneers even after they were trailing, 3-1.

“I give them credit. That’s as resilient as I think you can be, as to give up a two-goal lead late in the game,’’ said Carvel. “That’s a hell of a sign. This team, they’ve done things all year long that have impressed people and impressed me. I just felt in overtime that they were going to find a way.’’

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The Minutemen appeared to be ready to run away with the win when they turned the game around in the first period, taking advantage of an undisciplined Denver team to score three power play goals and seize a 3-1 lead after the opening 20 minutes.

UMass (31-9-0) went on a 5-on-3 with 8:44 left in the first period after Jarid Lukosevicius (tripping) and Tyson McLellan (holding) both went off for minor penalties. The Minutemen evened the score on Bobby Trivigno’s goal 25 seconds later. Del Gaizo sent the puck from the point over to the right, where Jacob Pritchard one-timed it, and Trivigno was able to re-direct it at the front of the net past Denver goalie Filip Larson.

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After Ryan Barrow was whistled for contact to the head of Del Gaizo and given a game misconduct, UMass found itself on another 5-on-3, and scored 18 seconds apart. Mitchell Chaffee got his team-leading 18th goal with a nice wrister from the right, then Leonard added a wrister of his own from the slot and a 3-1 lead with 6:38 remaining in the game.

Denver (24-12-5) struck first, grabbing a 1-0 lead with 11:31 remaining in the first period on Colin Staub’s power play goal. The Pioneers were on the man advantage after Niko Hildenbrand was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct for contact to the head with 13:36 left in the first period. UMass was able to kill off the rest of the major. UMass goalie Filip Lindberg recorded 37 saves for the win.