Amherst, MA — The 2018 playoffs gave the Massachusetts Minutemen confidence in playoff situations. The 2019 season gave UMass an aura of magic and the burden of expectation. They carried all three into their playoff opener with the New Hampshire Wildcats on Friday night. Much of the game saw UMass slipping, but the whole night reminded the fans at Mullins Center and College hockey observers at large of the talent and drive on offer in the Minuteman locker room.
The opening period went UMass’s way in the shot counter and time clock but felt at times like a feel-out time. The Minutemen won the shots 10-5. Mike Robinson stopped every shot and the UNH power play was asleep with two empty chances.
The second period opened disastrously for UMass. Brendan van Riemsdyk landed a transition goal 57 seconds into the frame. Less than a minute later, Matt Murray failed to corral a puck and the Wildcats were rewarded with a pinball goal last touched by Angus Crookshank. Chris Miller capped the offensive outburst with a third UNH goal on a transition rush and chased Matt Murray from the net. The sophomore from St. Albert, Alberta, allowed three goals on 14 shots faced. This was the first time all year Greg Carvel pulled a goalie from the game.
“Their first two goals tonight shouldn’t have gone in,” Carvel said. “And after the second goal, I went to Filie and told him ‘Get ready.’ Soon as the third goal went in, I put him in. We need saves. We need everyone to be at the top of their game. Matt’s been real good for us all year. That’s why he got the start tonight. But, just like everybody else on the team, we need your best and if it’s not there we’ll put someone else there.”
UMass tilted ice back their way to close the second. Jacob Pritchard threw a puck toward the net that kicked off Bobby Trivigno’s stick and into the net for a 3-1 UNH lead at the second intermission.
The momentum stayed on UMass’s wing to open the third. Pritchard found a loose puck at the right post and punched in the puck to cut the lead down to one. New Hampshire appeared to end the comeback when Chris Miller got space in transition and ripped his second goal of the night to make it a 4-2 Wildcat lead. UMass had more drive and magic to delve into and answered. First, Trivigno scored his second goal of the game and third point off some crisp passing from recently minted linemates Pritchard and Philip Lagunov.
Carvel praised his prized freshman from Setauket, NY. “We talk a lot about Cale Makar and maybe some other guys on the team. He (Trivigno) is probably our most important player. Every line he goes to scores all the goals gets all the chances. He’s the best forward on our team. He’s outstanding. If we had 20 of him, we probably wouldn’t lose too many games. We’d be the shortest team in the history of college hockey, but we probably wouldn’t lose too many games. He’s the real deal.”
UMass still needed another goal and turned to their Hobey Baker candidate to get it. Jake Gaudet won a faceoff directly to Cale Makar. The sophomore superstar created a little space and uncorked a wicked shot for his 14th goal and 43rd point of the season. He trails only Joseph Duszak and Chase Priskie in defenseman goal scoring, is tied for second with Adam Fox and behind Duszak for defenseman scoring, and is tied for sixth in national scoring.
The Minutemen could not break Mike Robinson as regulation wound down, so the game went to overtime. The extra session saw UMass dominate the shots 15-3, but Robinson again held in the face of a Brett Boeing breakaway, two clean Mario Ferraro looks, and sustained pressure that few teams can create. The game needed a second overtime which finally gave way when Mitchell Chaffee found a deflected Ty Farmer shot at his feet and whacked the puck under the bar for his team-leading 17th goal of the season and a 5-4 victory.
Mike Souza’s squad drops to 12-14-9 despite a 48 save effort by their sophomore netminder from Bedford, NH. Chris Miller’s two-goal effort doubled his season goal total.
“Disappointing outcome, exciting college hockey game,” as Souza summed up. “I thought our kids played their hearts out tonight. You feel for them. But it’s two out of three for a reason. You’ve gotta come back tomorrow night and get recharged and bring that same kind of effort tomorrow and see where it takes you.”
The Minutemen improve to 27-8-0.
“I wouldn’t say we were too frustrated,” observed Mitchell Chaffee. “We knew we were playing well. But we were making mistakes that just can’t happen. That’s how we get down three goals. We have a good group here and we know we can come back. We’ve done it before. We know what we need to do. We just need to stick to that and it worked tonight.”
The teams play game two of their series on Saturday night. Puck drops at 7 pm at the Mullins Center.