4 takeaways as UMass men’s hockey captures the first national title in program history

The Minutemen made history after coming up just short two years ago.

UMass won the national championship.
UMass won the national championship. –Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

When Greg Carvel arrived at UMass in 2016 – and endured a five-win season in year one that featured an agonizing 17-game losing streak – the head coach had a vision of building a program that would elicit great pride from those who were invested in the journey.

Carvel wasn’t initially focused on winning a national championship within the next five years. That goal seemed too farfetched to even him. He simply wanted to do everything the right way, make steady strides, and ultimately emerge as a contender.

The Minutemen won 17 games the next year, increased that total to 31 and booked a trip to the national championship game in 2018-19, and rebounded from a COVID-shortened season in 2019-20 to win their first Hockey East tournament championship this season.

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They flattened Lake Superior State and Bemidji State in the NCAA Bridgeport Regional, avenged a loss to powerhouse Minnesota Duluth in the Frozen Four semifinals on Thursday, and capped a dream season with a resounding 5-0 triumph over St. Cloud State to win the first national championship in program history Saturday at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.

“I’m very grateful for the people that laid the groundwork so that we could get to where we are,” Carvel said. “It was emotional for me right after the game, but I also have great pride in what we accomplished.”

They got production early from some unlikely sources.

Entering Saturday’s showdown, the Minutemen were 17-0-1 this season when scoring first. They got the edge they needed when the Huskies had a major breakdown and freshman Aaron Bohlinger corralled the puck, passed it to freshman Ryan Sullivan, got it back, and scored with 12:34 left in the first period.

The Minutemen extended their lead with 1:04 remaining in the first as Cal Kiefiuk delivered a backdoor feed to sophomore Reed Lebster, who tapped it in to put UMass ahead, 2-0.

Bohlinger’s goal was the first of his career and Lebster’s was his second of the season. The Minutemen flaunted their depth all season, and that balance was on full display in the biggest game in franchise history.

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“Our depth has been a huge reason why we’ve made it to this game tonight,” senior captain Jake Gaudet said.

UMass didn’t overwhelm St. Cloud State, but it was opportunistic and took the mistakes the Huskies made and turned them into steady production.

Though St. Cloud State found itself in a 2-0 deficit through at the end of the first period, head coach Brett Larson was encouraged by his team’s overall level of execution outside of the key miscues.

“We thought we had a good first period,” Larson said. “You wouldn’t know it by the score.”

The third goal was pivotal, and the Minutemen never relented.

Larson called UMass’s third strike the “turning point” of the evening, when senior Philip Lagunov made a filthy individual move and finished a shorthanded goal just over five minutes into the period. It was the first shorthanded goal in a championship game since 2016, and it gave the Minutemen a major boost.

“It happened really fast,” Lagunov said with a grin. “I kind of blacked out.”

The Huskies outshot the Minutemen, 12-6, in the second period, and they finished with 25 for the game compared to UMass’s 22. That statistic doesn’t tell close to the full story, though, as the Minutemen controlled the game and never let the Huskies sniff a possible comeback.

Oliver Chau found Matthew Kessel for a beautiful goal to make it 4-0 through three, and Most Outstanding Player Bobby Trivigno extended the lead to 5-0 for good measure with 14 minutes remaining. Trivigno, who wasn’t able to play in the championship game two years ago, was extremely grateful for the full-circle ending.

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“It’s crazy,” Trivigno said. “Where I was two years ago to now, as far as emotionally, is a world of difference.”

Filip Lindberg stepped up after a difficult week.

Goalie Filip Lindberg missed the semifinal due to a COVID-related issue. He watched the game from a hotel in Amherst and had to get outside for some fresh air along the way because he was so antsy.

Lindberg called the day he found out he couldn’t play one of the worst days of his life and “a nightmare.”

He credited Matt Murray for stepping up and guiding the Minutemen to a win over Duluth, and Lindberg was thrilled to be cleared for the final. 

“I was ready to play no matter what,” Lindberg said. “I rested a lot in the hotel.”

Lindberg, who has established himself as one of the elite goalies in the country, made 25 saves against the Huskies. He went 10-0-3 with a .903 goals against average and .962 save percentage in his last 13 games.

Carvel has referred to him as the untold story of college hockey, but after this performance, the Finland native’s fan club is growing exponentially. He became the first goalie from outside North America to win a national championship as the starter.

“He was so good this year because of his mental toughness,” Carvel said.

Greg Carvel is mentally drained but ecstatic.

It was an emotional few weeks for Carvel. His father-in-law, who was a philosophy professor at UMass, died two weeks ago. One of his role models and close coaching friends, Red Gendron, died Friday. 

He’s also had to cope with the far less agonizing, yet still very difficult, reality of temporarily losing his star goalie and standout forward Carson Gicewicz for the semifinal. Carvel seemed spent as he addressed the media after the game, and his voice was essentially shot, but it was clear he was also incredibly grateful.

Carvel said he got lucky with the people he surrounded himself with, and he believes the people and culture are responsible for the turnaround. He hopes to continue the momentum, but for now, he’s going to soak this one in and enjoy it.

Said Carvel: “You run on adrenaline through these times.”

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