UMass wins the national championship

Greg Carvel came to Massachusetts five years ago with one goal: to make UMass hockey respectable. 

Mission more than accomplished.

After losing to Minnesota Duluth in the national title game two years ago, Carvel’s Minutemen breezed past St. Cloud State, 5-0, in the national championship game on Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh to claim the program’s first national championship.

In the opening minutes of the first period, St. Cloud’s Veeti Miettinen picked off a breakout pass and was able to spring free for a chance on Filip Lindberg — it was an early test for the goaltender who hadn’t played in two weeks — but it hit the crossbar after sailing over Lindberg’s left shoulder.

Little did the Huskies know at the time that Miettinen’s chance would be their best scoring opportunity of the game.

Later in the first period, St. Cloud State defenseman Seamus Donohue was taken out by an oncoming St. Cloud forward following a line change, and it allowed Ryan Sullivan and Aaron Bohlinger to separate from the pack on a 2-on-0 rush. After some back-and-forth passes, Bohlinger finished the play for his first career goal at the 7:36 mark of the first period to give the Minutemen a 1-0 lead.

“Unfortunately we have a player blow an edge and take another player out and they get a 2-on-0,” said St. Cloud State head coach Brett Larson. “All of a sudden you're down 1-0 even though you really like the start. They get a late goal in the period on a wrap-around play. And I felt like we started pressing a little bit too early.”

In the minute following the goal, St. Cloud defenseman Nick Perbix drove to the net from the right-wing wall and was pressured by UMass defender Bohlinger. With Bohlinger pressuring him at his back, he collided with Lindberg but no penalty was called. 

With 1:04 left in the period, UMass forward Cal Kiefiuk made a smart play to get the puck into open space on a breakout. He collected it himself after he won a race with a St. Cloud defender and took it behind the net for a wraparound bid, but instead of a shot, he rifled the puck across the top of the crease where Reed Lebster was waiting to capitalize for his second goal of the season.

Philip Lagunov scored the highlight-reel goal of the entire tournament at the 5:10 mark of the second period. On the penalty kill, Lagunov scooped up a puck in the neutral zone and slipped the puck through Perbix, who appeared to be going for a bodycheck, and then slid it through the five-hole on David Hrenak to make it 3-0 Minutemen. 

“To be completely honest, it happened really fast,” Lagunov said. “I kind of blacked out. The guy was driving towards me and I used my space to try to beat him. It all happened really fast.”

On the power play at the 13:45 mark of the second period, Matthew Kessel teed up a slap shot from the top of the right circle that went through three St. Cloud penalty killers and Hrenak to give the Minutemen a 4-0 lead.

After Kessel’s goal, the Huskies had some life and tested Lindberg for the first time since the start of the first period, but the junior was up to the task and kept the Huskies off the board.

If there was any doubt heading into the third period, the Minutemen but the game to rest in the first seven minutes. After a shift where they put on a forechecking clinic and dominated possession, Bobby Trivigno converted on his 11th goal of the season to make it 5-0.

“Once they got up, they went into a pretty structured 1-3-1 in the neutral zone and took away the middle,” Larson said. “We were forced to wrap pucks and try to seal it and come up with possession that way. I thought they ran it well once they got the lead.”

UMass became the fifth program in Hockey East to win a national championship, joining Boston College, Boston University, Maine, and Providence. Additionally, Hockey East became the second conference to have at least five schools win a national title, joining the ECAC.