Two years ago, the UMass men’s hockey team piled up 31 wins on the way to winning the Hockey East regular season championship and advancing to the NCAA championship game. One thing that club did not accomplish was winning the conference tournament, as the Minutemen lost in the semifinals to Boston College, which was the seventh seed that year.
On Saturday night, UMass (15-5-4) will look to win the program’s first conference tournament title at the Mullins Center in Amherst. Standing in the way this time around will be another seventh seed, UMass Lowell (10-8-1).
“We’re playing in the championship game, on home ice, against our rival. What a great opportunity for both schools,” said UMass coach Greg Carvel. “I’m excited for our kids. What a year this has been. It’s been hard in many ways, but these kids have made it memorable.”
Junior Bobby Trivigno had a goal and two assists in the 5-2 semifinal win over Providence, giving him 10 goals and 20 assists on the season to lead the Minutemen in both categories. Earlier this week he was selected as a first team all-star for the conference.
Junior Filip Lindberg (6-1-4) has seen the bulk of the action in net since returning from injury and made 20 saves against Providence. Lindberg was named to the conference’s second all-star team, as was sophomore defenseman Zac Jones (8 goals, 12 assists). Forward Josh Lopina also has eight goals and 12 assists, and was named the conference’s co-rookie of the year along with BC’s Nikita Nesterenko.
The River Hawks began the tournament under .500, but have won three straight to improve to 10-8-1, including a 3-2 road win at the No. 2 seed, Boston University, in the quarterfinals. That was followed up by Wednesday night’s thrilling comeback at No. 1 BC, in which they rallied from a 4-1 deficit with less than 10 minutes remaining to force overtime, before going on to win, 6-5 in double overtime.
“It’s a no quit mentality,” said UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “I’m proud of the group for a number of reasons, but resiliency had been a key word here for the whole season.”
Bazin has been going with Henry Welsch in net. After allowing four goals through the first two periods against BC, he allowed just one in the final 50 minutes of play.
“I give Welschy a lot of credit on our side because he fought through some stuff, and i thought he got better as the game went along,” said Bazin.
While the Minutemen will be going for their first title, UMass Lowell will be going for its fourth under Bazin, and its first since 2017. The River Hawks would clinch a spot in the NCAA tournament with a win. Game time Saturday is 7 p.m. and will be on NESN.
About that offsides call against BC
Boston College thought it punched its ticket to Saturday night’s title game when Patrick Giles was able to deflect Jack St. Ivany’s shot past Welsch with 6:49 remaining in the first overtime. But the celebration was short-lived, as the play went to a video review.
At first, it was not apparent what exactly was being disputed. Eventually it was learned that the referees were reviewing whether BC was offside on the zone entry, which occurred a full 15 seconds before the goal was scored.
After several minutes examining the different angles on replay, the officials determined that Casey Carreau’s skate was slightly raised off the ice along the blue line as Giles carried the puck into the zone. In college hockey, that qualifies as offsides, but not in the NHL, which changed the rule last offseason to the following:
“A player is on-side when either of his skates are in contact with the blue line, or on his own side of the line, at the instant the puck completely crosses the leading edge of the blue line. On his own side of the line shall be defined by a “plane” of the blue line which shall extend from the leading edge of the blue line upwards. If a player’s skate has yet to break the “plane” prior to the puck crossing the leading edge, he is deemed to be on-side for the purpose of the off-side rule.”
BC coach Jerry York would like to see that interpretation for the college game.
“Maybe our offside rule will be the catalyst to go with what the NHL has,” York said after the game. “It’s remarkable, if you see it, to go in slow motion, to see Casey Carreau’s skate is like two inches off the ice.
“The elation of scoring the OT goal and then having it reviewed for an offsides, I think that’s why the NHL, they’ve had problems with that in the past. They changed their rule to a plane, where the skate is.
“But that’s the rule we have, and it was the correct call.”
With the loss to UMass in the semifinals, Providence (11-9-5) finds itself on the bubble as far as the postseason is concerned. Coach Nate Leaman politely declined when asked to make the case for his team, choosing instead to offer his appreciation for what his players had been through.
“The biggest thing is, I’m proud of our guys,” said Leaman. “They didn’t go home at all this year. They committed Thanksgiving. They committed Christmas. They played when I was away. They played when our World Junior players were away. I’m proud of them for that. I’m proud of their commitment.
“We’ll let the committee do their job. There’s good people on the committee and they’re going to do their job.”
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.