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NCAA HOCKEY TOURNAMENT | UMASS 4, BEMIDJI STATE 0

After decades in the wilderness, UMass men’s hockey is headed to a second straight Frozen Four

Carson Gicewicz, shown during Friday's UMass victory over Lake Superior State, registered the first hat trick of his college career in Saturday's shutout of Bemidji State.
Carson Gicewicz, shown during Friday's UMass victory over Lake Superior State, registered the first hat trick of his college career in Saturday's shutout of Bemidji State.Steven G. Smith

For the UMass hockey team, this season has been about business deferred, about seeing to what didn’t get done two years ago. The Hockey East tournament crown that wasn’t won. The NCAA title that wasn’t claimed. The coronavirus denied the Minutemen the chance at fulfillment last season. This time, they’ve been relentless about going after every piece of hardware they can.

UMass already collected its first Hockey East tournament laurels by blanking UMass-Lowell. On Saturday night at Bridgeport, Conn.’s Webster Bank Arena, the strapping gentlemen from Amherst punched their return ticket to next month’s Frozen Four in Pittsburgh, battering overmatched Bemidji State, 4-0, in an NCAA regional final as transfer Carson Gicewicz turned his first collegiate hat trick.

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“That was a very dominant game, a very thorough game by our group,” said coach Greg Carvel, whose squad (18-5-4) will take a school-record 12-game unbeaten streak into the national semifinals on April 8, a rematch with two-time defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth. “We came out and set the tone and played very strong defensive hockey.”

Duluth and eight-time titlist North Dakota staged the longest game in NCAA hockey tournament history later Saturday, Bulldogs freshman Luke Mylymok scoring after 142 minutes, 13 seconds — 2:13 into the fifth 20-minute overtime — to win the Fargo, N.D., regional, 3-2. The game, a 7:30 p.m. Eastern faceoff, ended at 1:42 a.m. and was the third-longest Division I college game of all time. (UMass owns the record, beating Notre Dame in a five-overtime first-round Hockey East playoff game in 2015 which lasted 151:42.)

Duluth, which led, 2-0, with two minutes left in regulation before the Fighting Hawks scored twice with their goalie pulled, appeared to score the game-winner in the first overtime, but video review overruled the goal due to offsides.

The Bulldogs beat first-time finalist UMass in the 2019 national championship game, 3-0, in Buffalo.

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UMass staggered the Beavers (16-10-3) with two first-period goals from Gicewicz, the former St. Lawrence captain who’d scored a key tally in Friday’s triumph over Lake Superior State. The first was shorthanded, off a 2-on-1 give-and-go from linemate Oliver Chau, just after UMass killed off nearly a minute of 5-on-3. The second came in the final minute, with Gicewicz tipping in defenseman Matthew Kessel’s slapper from the right point.

Gicewicz cashed his third half a dozen minutes into the second period by punching in Jake Gaudet’s feed from the doorstep.

“To get [a hat trick] on a stage like this, and for all of them to pretty much be where I didn’t have to do much, just goes to show how solid of a team we have,” said Gicewicz. “If you’re standing in the right spot, the guys will find you every time.”

By then, the Minutemen were fully in control.

“Once we got behind, we started chasing the game,” said Bemidji State coach Tom Serratore, whose team had scored half a dozen goals on top-seeded Wisconsin on Friday. “If we had gotten the first goal or if we had answered back even when it was 2-0, that could have jump-started us. But it just never happened.”

That was how the Minutemen destroyed the Manchester regional two years ago, when they bounced Harvard and Notre Dame by 4-0 counts. They get up and running and nobody catches them. The Beavers, whose mantra is ‘attack-attack-attack,’ were back on the tails from the start. So when Chau and Gaudet were sent to the box and Bemidji had a 5-on-3 advantage for 50 seconds at 12:34, it was a priceless chance to take the upper hand.

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Instead, the Beavers gave up the shorthander with 10 seconds remaining in the second penalty.

“You never want that to happen,” said captain Ethan Somoza. “That was kind of a game changer there.”

The Minutemen, who have nearly a dozen guys still around from the 2019 team, know how to flip you on your back when you least expect it. Their previous experience on the national stage has proven priceless. Lake Superior State, whom UMass shot down 5-1 in the opener, hadn’t qualified for the NCAAs in 25 years. Bemidji was here for the first time since 2010, a year after its own magic ride to the Frozen Four.

The Minutemen play a heavy game with speed and savvy. Their first line of Chou, Gaudet, and Gicewicz scored seven of their nine goals on the weekend. And its defense, anchored by goaltender Filip Lindberg is positively stifling.

“Best hockey team we saw all year,” said Sterratore.

Now they get to prove what they wanted to last year.

After Chau had added an empty-netter and time expired, Carvel came slip-sliding out from behind the bench to celebrate with his pupils.

“I was going too fast for a man my age,” he acknowledged. “But they were about to do something without me and I wasn’t going to have that. It’s called unity. We do everything together.”

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