Minnesota Duluth and Massachusetts will meet in the semifinals of the NCAA Frozen Four at 8 p.m. Thursday, April 8, at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh in a rematch of the 2019 national championship game played 219 miles to the north in Buffalo, N.Y.
The Bulldogs beat the Minutemen 3-0 for their second consecutive NCAA title in a game that UMass coach Greg Carvel vividly remembers.
“Last time we played Duluth, it wasn't close,” Carvel said Tuesday during a Frozen Four video conference with reporters. “They shut the door on us, beat us 3-nothing. I expect we're gonna have an equally tough challenge this time.”
While fond memories were not made by the Minutemen on the night of April 13, 2019, Carvel called his program’s experience in the 2019 Frozen Four “critical” because they’ll be seeing the same “tough team” again in Pittsburgh. Yes, they learned some things about the Bulldogs that night, but the most important lessons Carvel, now in his fifth season at UMass, said he learned from the 2019 Frozen Four was how to handle the moments leading up to Thursday’s national semifinal and the moments after.
“Last time it was eyes wide open, just go where we are told,” said Carvel, whose team in 2019 was appearing in its first Frozen Four. “Now we kind of have a feeling of how it runs and how important it is to make sure your players get proper rest and preparation. So the experience, we think, will be very helpful for us this time.”
Carvel said his program didn’t handle the schedule well two years ago in Buffalo.
UMass went to overtime against Denver in the late semifinal game that year on Thursday after taking a 3-1 lead into the third period. When Marc Del Gaizo scored 15:18 into OT for the 4-3 win, it was 12:02 a.m. ET Friday.
It wasn’t long before UMass was back at the rink Friday for media obligations and practice, and then that evening the team celebrated Cale Makar’s Hobey Baker Memorial Award.
“After that, his dad told me, ‘Cale is gassed.’ So we were all — I don’t want to say limped in — but we were a tired team going into that championship game,” Carvel said. “We've already talked about how if we're fortunate enough to move on, that we need to make sure recovery is our priority. Even heading into the semifinal game — it's a different year, there won't be as many distractions because of COVID — but we learned that we have to do what's best for our players first. Last time I don't think we did that well enough.”
Experiences get UMD back to Frozen Four
Both UMass and UMD return nine players who took the ice in Buffalo for the 2019 national championship game. Among those nine for the Bulldogs are four who also played in the 2018 NCAA title game at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Luke Mylymok, who scored the game-winning goal for UMD in the 3-2 five-overtime win over North Dakota in the regional final, is not among the four who helped UMD win in 2018 in St. Paul, nor was he a Bulldog in 2019 in Buffalo. Saturday and Sunday at Scheels Arena in Fargo was the freshman forward’s first NCAA tournament game and first postseason appearance ever at the collegiate level after being scratched for both games in the NCHC tournament.
Despite his lack of playoff experience in college, Mylymok said he knew exactly what to expect and do in Fargo thanks to all of those in the UMD locker room who had been there before.
“There were a lot of ups and downs in that game, and the biggest thing is to not get frustrated or overwhelmed by it,” Mylymok said Sunday morning. “Whatever happens, happens. It’s out of your control with those calls. You just go out there and do a job, do what you can to help the team and make sure the call goes your way next time.”
UMD coach Scott Sandelin on Sunday morning called the five-overtime regional final the most “unique” game he had ever been part of, with two extra-attacker goals by the Fighting Hawks to force overtime, a Bulldogs goal during the first OT overturned by video review, and a goalie change for UMD in the fourth OT, all coming on top of it being the longest NCAA men’s or women’s tournament game ever at 142 minutes, 13 seconds.
While UMD had yet to experience all of that at once during an NCAA tournament game during their current stretch of six consecutive appearances, the team knew to always stick with the game no matter what came their way, Sandelin said.
“Our guys have been through these situations and how hard it is to win these games at this time of the year to keep moving on,” Sandelin said. “They’ve seen a lot. We’ve been in situations, tight games, been down, up — same thing in previous years. I do think that things do come back. Like I said before, it doesn’t guarantee anything, but it helped keep our guys calm. They were really positive on the bench and in the room.”
FROM THE RINK LIVE:
- SCSU's ice whisperer is unsung hero of epic 5-OT game between UND, UMD in Fargo
- The Rink Live Podcast talks Frozen Four with Matt Wellens, Jason Feldman, Dave Starman and Mick Hatten
- The Rink Live reporters question: What was the craziest moment you saw during the men's college season in 2020-21?
- Field, game times set for 2021 NCAA Frozen Four in Pittsburgh
After winning his third national championship in Buffalo in 2019, Sandelin shared he had never gone back to watch any of his previous two titles in 2011 and 2018 in their entirety, and he wasn’t planning to watch 2019 again either.
"I'll figure out there is something wrong," Sandelin said. "I'm just going to enjoy what I saw and I'm going to move on. That's what I've done every game.”
Tuesday, Sandelin said he may have to break that rule this year considering the circumstances and watch the 2019 win over UMass. Sandelin said he’s already gone back and watched some of the game to pull clips for a presentation.
“I haven’t seen them play a lot. I think I watched a little bit of one of their Hockey East playoff games when we weren’t playing,” Sandelin said. “Greg has done a great job there. I don’t think they’re playing a whole lot different than they did a couple years ago. I’ll see what they’re doing now and does that compare? Are there any differences?”
Sandelin had brief updates Tuesday on the two Bulldogs who started the regional final on Saturday, but didn’t make it to the end of the game on Sunday. Freshman goaltender Zach Stejskal, who made 57 saves in almost 125 minutes before leaving with cramps, was already feeling better on the trip home Sunday and he’s good to return to practice Wednesday. Freshman defenseman Connor Kelley, who took a hard hit late in the second period, remains day-to-day, but Sandelin said “he’s doing good” after suffering an undisclosed injury in the game.
As coach of a Frozen Four participant, Sandelin was named a finalist Tuesday for the Spencer Penrose Award as national coach of the year in NCAA Division I men’s hockey. It’s the fifth consecutive season Sandelin is a finalist. He won the award in 2004.