NCAA Tournament: UMass hockey receives No. 3 seed in Worcester Regional, will face Minnesota

  • UMass fans poured into TD Garden on Saturday in Boston to support the Minutemen in the Hockey East championship game against UConn. UMass won 2-1 in overtime. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI—

Staff Writer
Published: 3/20/2022 2:21:15 PM

BOSTON – UMass’ path to defending its Division I hockey national championship runs through the Commonwealth.

The UMass hockey team will be a No. 3 seed in the Northeast Regional of the 2022 NCAA Tournament, as the selection committee revealed the 16-team bracket on Sunday. The Minutemen will face No. 2 Minnesota at 6 p.m. Friday at the DCU Center in Worcester.

No. 1 Western Michigan and No. 4 Northeastern are the other matchup at noon. Whoever wins each game will meet in the regional final Sunday for a trip to the Frozen Four in Boston.

UMass (22-12-2) has been to two straight national championship games and is the defending national champion.

The Hockey East champion Minutemen clinched a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive event. The Minutemen have made four appearances overall, the last two with an automatic bid as a conference champion. They’ve reached the past two national championship games, falling in 2019 and winning in 2021 (the entire 2020 postseason was canceled by the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic).

UMass was a No. 2 seed last season in Bridgeport, Conn., and a No. 1 seed in Manchester, N.H. in 2019. The Minutemen have now been every seed in the NCAA Tournament after receiving a No. 4 seed in their maiden appearance in 2007 (Rochester, N.Y.).

UMass’ conference title – along with Minnesota State’s overtime victory in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association final –  helped secure NCAA Tournament berths for two Hockey East teams: Northeastern and UMass Lowell, the conference’s semifinal losers. They both needed teams that had already secured bids to win the conference championships to not shrink the bubble. Harvard’s victory over Quinnipiac in the ECAC championship ended Ohio State’s season.

“I think there's happy teams in our league that we won,” Carvel said. “Hopefully Northeastern and Lowell get in because they’re good hockey teams. It’d be great to see Hockey East make some noise in the tournament.”

FANS IN FULL FORCE – Only its own cheers toasted the UMass hockey team’s first Hockey East championship last season in an empty Mullins Center.

Saturday at TD Garden, the Minutemen’s fans made up for lost time. They thronged the venerable arena, outnumbering the opposing UConn faithful in depth and voice. UMass’ supporters cheered whenever super fan Quinn McCarron, the UMass Reindeer kid, appeared on the center big screens.

Boos reined on anyone wearing Huskies navy blue or UConn logos. Not even children were safe.

UMass defeated UConn 2-1 in overtime to claim its second consecutive conference title. The entire regiment of Minutemen fans stayed and celebrated the four UMass players named to the all-tournament team, each of their laps hoisting the Lamoriello Trophy and the Hockey East championship banner being raised to the rafters.

“It was awesome. What a great showing for our university. It was loud, it was awesome,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “We’ve won a few championships, but that’s been the best atmosphere. I want to thank all the alumni and fans that came out and supported us. We were able to make them proud this weekend.”

The official attendance figure credited 12,049 fans for the championship  game (13,106 viewed Friday’s semifinal doubleheader). That’s 12,049 more than saw any of last season’s Hockey East tournament games, which were all played at empty campus sites as part of COVID-19 protocols.

Winning this title with fans doesn’t diminish last season’s without, though.

“Obviously a championship’s a championship, we’ll take it any way we can get it. It definitely made it a little more special having fans and supporters here,” said UMass sophomore defenseman Aaron Bohlinger, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime. “So I’m pretty thankful and grateful for that.”

BEASTS OF THE EAST – UMass players collected four of the six spots on the all-tournament team.

Senior forward Bobby Trivigno was the only repeat selection and was also named the tournament’s MVP for the second year in a row. He had five points and three goals in the tournament, including two points and a goal in Saturday’s final.

Senior defenseman Colin Felix, graduate student goalie Matt Murray and senior forward Garrett Wait also received the nod.

Murray allowed just four goals in three games and made 86 saves. Felix had an assist in the championship game and was part of UMass’ shutdown defensive pairing with Bohlinger. Wait finished with two points, both against UMas Lowell in the semifinal.

UConn forward Vladislav Firstov, who scored the opening goal of all three of the Huskies tournament game, and defenseman John Spetz claimed the other two spots.

WELCOME TO THE CLUB – Ten newcomers won a championship for the first time as UMass players, including the teams’ seven freshmen and three transfers. 

“It was the awkward part of the year that you talk about championships and we’ve got 10 kids that weren’t a part of that, and it felt kind of awkward, strange for those kids who weren’t part of it,” Carvel said. “Now they are.”

WORKING OVERTIME – The Hockey East championship game went to overtime for the first time since 2010, when Boston College defeated Maine 7-6. Matt Lombardi netted the winner for the Eagles.

DID THE LOVE AFFAIR MAIM YOU, TOO? – Two singalongs filled the anxious waiting time in the intermission between the end of the third period and the beginning of overtime. As the break began, the Garden’s speakers pumped out the 10-minute version of Taylor Swift’s “All Too Well,” a recently released full version of a breakup ballad. 

Some headed for the exits, but many threw their arms around their neighbors and belted out every emotional verse.

Then the UMass band lifted the collective spirit with its traditional between second and third period rendering of “Sweet Caroline,” always a hit in Massachusetts.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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