UMass sophomore Aaron Bohlinger sure knows how to pick his spots. The defenseman entered Saturday night’s Hockey East championship game with two goals in 57 games with the Minutemen, with his lone goal as a freshman the winner in the 2021 NCAA title game.
Better make that three career goals, as his shot from the point 3:06 into overtime eluded UConn goalie Darion Hanson (31 saves) and gave the Minutemen a 2-1 win and their second consecutive conference tournament championship.
“He told me after the game he only scores in championship games,” said UMass coach Greg Carvel after his team became the eighth school to win back-to-back titles, and the first since UMass Lowell in 2013-14.
Bohlinger’s shot deflected off UConn forward Jachym Kondelik’s arm and into the net.
“We knew we had them on their heels and just did the right things,” said Bohlinger. “Great pass, put it on net, and good things happened.”
Senior Bobby Trivigno was credited with an assist on the play and scored the first goal for UMass (22-12-2) in the second period to give him 20 goals and 28 assists on the season. The Hockey East player of the year added to his trophy collection when he was named tournament MVP.
The game had been a tight defensive battle. After a scoreless first period in which UConn (20-16-0) landed just three shots, the Huskies were more aggressive in the opening minutes of the second, registering five shots in the first 2:25. It was the fifth shot that found the back of the net for the first goal of the game.
Sophomore John Spetz set up the score, firing a shot on net from the top of the right faceoff circle, with junior Vladislav Firstov redirecting it between the legs of UMass goalie Matt Murray (19 saves). It was the third straight game that Firstov scored the first goal for the Huskies.
That seemed to open up things offensively for both teams, although neither squad was able to capitalize until late in the period when Trivigno kept the puck on a two-on-one and beat Hanson stick side to even the game at 16:07.
“They were better than us in the first,” said Carvel. “We couldn’t get through the neutral zone. They do a really good job of getting pucks to the net. That’s how they scored the goal. We felt like we were able to open the game up and start wearing them down. We were able to use our speed and start winning some battles.”
The score would remain tied heading into the final 20 minutes. UMass held a 25-16 edge in shots through the first two periods. The two teams would combine for just nine shots in the third, with UMass holding a 7-2 edge.
“We just had a hard time sustaining any offensive pressure,” said UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh. “They’ve got a good team, they did a good job of not letting us get any pressure on them.”
UConn had reached the 20 win mark for the first time since joining Hockey East. A win Saturday night would have clinched the program’s first trip to the NCAA tournament.
The game capped a wild night of college hockey that saw Harvard defeat Quinnipiac in overtime in the ECAC final to punch its ticket to the NCAA tournament. UMass Lowell also clinched a spot in the tourney by virtue of UMass’s win.
Northeastern thought it had reached the tournament as well when Minnesota State scored 3:02 into overtime to defeat Bemidji State, 2-1, in the CCHA championship. The trophy was presented, the fans left the arena, but then the goal was reviewed, and it was determined that the net had been lifted up, and the puck slid under it.
The call was overturned, and the two teams returned to the ice after a delay of 1 hour, 14 minutes, where Minnesota State again scored the winner, officially clinching a spot for Northeastern.
The teams will learn their destination Sunday at 6:30 p.m. when the pairings are announced on ESPNU.
Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.