Notes from the Sideline: Minutemen vs. Pioneers; A Frozen primer

  • Colin Staub of the Denver Pioneers, right, celebrates his goal against AIC with teammates during NCAA Tournament action in Fargo, N.D. last month. Denver will meet UMass in the Frozen Four, Thursday at 8:30 p.m. in Buffalo, N.Y. AP FILE

  • UMass Mullins Center 3/15/18. UMass No.10 Jake Suter, battles with UNH No.12 Eric Macadams for control of the puck along the end boards in the 1st by J. Anthony Roberts /// FYI,I have attached a photo from the UMass Hockey vs UNH Hockey East game. J. Anthony Roberts

  • Bobby Trivigno, right, of UMass, checks Frederic Gregoire, of Harvard, during the NCAA Division 1 tournament, March 29 at SNHU Arena in Manchester, N.H. FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jake Gaudet, left, of UMass, goes to the puck against Christopher Brown, of Boston College, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019 at the Mullins Center.

For the Recorder
Published: 4/9/2019 9:44:57 PM

Chinese military strategist Sun-Tzu said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

Those words were uttered in 500 B.C. – a few years before the first puck was dropped. On Thursday night at the 18,500-seat KeyBank Center in Buffalo, the UMass hockey team will play the University of Denver in a Frozen Four semifinal.

Here’s a few facts that Sun-Tzu would’ve wanted you to know about the Pioneers. As horse handicappers like to say, Denver has back class. This is their 12th straight appearance in the NCAA tournament and their 15th trip to the Frozen Four. They’ve won eight NCAA titles, including two years ago at Chicago’s United Center where Denver’s Jarid Lukosevicius scored three goals in eight minutes for a 3-2 win against Notre Dame.

It was the first hat trick in an NCAA final since Jim Montgomery netted a trifecta for Maine against Lake Superior State in 1993. Montgomery was Denver’s coach in 2017 but left a year later to coach the Dallas Stars.

The players’ choice to replace Montgomery was assistant coach David Carle. The 29-year-old Alaska native was a seventh-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, but his hockey aspirations were derailed when doctors discovered he had an enlarged heart. The core of Denver’s team is the half-dozen players who remain from its championship season. The 24-year-old Lukosevicius has 19 goals and 130 shots on net. Junior Liam Finlay has 16 goals and 20 assists, and senior Colin Staub scored a goal in both games of the West Regionals. 

Lukosevicius had T-shirts printed that said “Prove them wrong,” regarding the perceived negative impact that having 10 freshmen and nine sophomores would have on the team this season.

The freshman class includes diminutive forward Cole Guttman (12-11-23), a sixth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and feisty forward Brett Stapley (6 goals, 14 assists) whom the Canadiens took in the seventh round last year.

“Guttman has a hockey IQ beyond his years,” said Shane Malloy, a co-host of Hockey Prospects Radio on Sirius-XM.

Sophomore defenseman Ian Mitchell has shown why he was taken in the second round (57th overall) by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2017. In two years, he has eight goals, 49 assists and a gaudy plus-34 rating.

In the offseason, Denver acquired Les Lancaster, a senior transfer who was a two-time, first-team all-conference selection at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa. Lancaster potted the game-winner against Ohio State in the regional semifinal.

Denver suffered a huge loss offensively when their top playmaker, Norwegian freshman Emilio Pettersen, skated off holding his arm during the West Regional final against AIC two weeks ago. A sixth-round pick of the Calgary Flames, Pettersen has a team-leading 24 assists.

The Pioneers finished fourth (11-10-3) in the eight-team National Collegiate Hockey Conference. Despite losing to Minnesota-Duluth in the conference semifinals, their overall record (24-11-5) was good enough to land them a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Neither the Pioneers nor the Minutemen have allowed a goal in their respective NCAA tilts. Denver’s 32 shots have netted five goals in two games, and Massachusetts’ 70 shots have garnered eight goals.                 

Lately, the Pioneers have gone into a shell when they take the lead. After Lancaster’s go-ahead goal in the second period gave them a 1-0 lead against Ohio State, the Pioneers had zero shots on net in the third period (except for the empty-netter). It was effective, albeit unexciting.

It’s rare that the best defense is a good offense, but UMass passes the litmus test. Coach Greg Carvel’s pro style offense has accounted for more goals (139) than any team except St. Cloud State and Minnesota State. Snipers Cale Makar, Jacob Pritchard, Mitchell Chaffee and John Leonard all have more points than Denver’s leading scorer Ryan Finlay.

Both teams will start freshmen goaltenders from Scandinavia – Filip Larsson for Denver (.936 save percentage in 21 games) and Filip Lindberg for UMass (.939 in 15 games).

Lindberg was hampered by illness for most of February, but has three shutouts in his last four games. The 21-year-old Larsson was drafted in the sixth round by Detroit in 2016 and played a year in the USHL before joining the Pioneers.

“He came in as a freshman and took charge,” said Malloy. “There’s not many I compare to (Montreal’s) Carey Price. This kid has Carey Price composure. He doesn’t swim around in the crease. He rarely falls backward, his balance is centered in the net and he stays between the posts.”

On special teams, UMass is second in power play scoring and Denver is 48th. UMass is fourth in penalty killing and Denver is 21st.

On paper and on the ice, UMass is the better team. The difference between Carvel and Carle is “V” for victory. Final score: UMass 5, Denver 1.

All three Frozen Four games will be televised on ESPN2 and broadcast by ESPNU Radio on Sirius-XM Channel 84. Locally, the UMass game (or games) will be broadcast by flagship WHMP (1400 AM) and its three affiliates, 1240 AM in Greenfield, 101.5 FM and 107.5 FM and also on the WHMP app.

EASTWARD HO: Denver was 3-0-1 against Hockey East teams this season. The Pioneers beat Merrimack and UMass Lowell on the road, and won and tied against Providence at home.

GET OFF HIS BACK: The consensus on satellite radio talk shows has been that that the Minutemen will go as far as Cale Makar takes them. “Makar is huge,” said WHMP’s Brock Hines, “but there’s too much balance on this team for it to be about how far one player takes them.

“It still feels like December,” added Hines. “There’s still business to tend to. I’ve heard people say UMass is playing with house money, but they’ve earned their trip to Buffalo.”

NOTES: Greg Carvel was named National Coach of the Year on Tuesday by the American Hockey Coaches Association, the first Hockey East coach to receive the honor since Norm Bazin in 2013. … Seven former Denver players are currently skating in the NHL, including Devils defenseman Will Butcher from the 2017 championship team. … Of the 26 players on Denver’s roster, seven hail from California and six are from British Columbia. … The Pioneers averaged 5,560 fans at Magness Arena (ninth of 60 Division I teams); UMass averaged 4,876 at the Mullins Center (12th). … During the Northeast Regionals an ebullient ESPN announcer exclaimed: “Ryan Bamford is one of the star ADs in the country!” Really? Checked the football and basketball standings lately? The hockey team has probably saved Bamford his job. … College Hockey Inc.’s Nate Ewell says more intercollegiate hockey programs are on the horizon. “There’s so many good players out there, the 61st team can stock a roster and compete right away,” he told Bernie Corbett on Sirius-XM’s “Hockey on Campus.” … At the Northeast Regionals, the Notre Dame pep band pointed and chanted at the refs. “We had a guy (referee) make a big thing of checking the net so we started yelling, ‘Check that net! Check that net!’ Now we do it every game,” said a tuba player named Matt. … During their win against AIC, Denver play-by-play announcer Jay Stickney exclaimed, “The Yellow Jackets do really dress like they’re Yellow Jackets.” It must’ve been the socks.


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