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2019 NCAA Frozen Four preview: Cale Makar and UMass go for a national championship

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Everybody stay calm and remember to breathe.

Jeffrey T. Barnes - AP Photos

UMass Minutemen vs. Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs

UMass-UMD Stats

Team Regular Season Record Playoffs Record Regional Semi-Final Regional Final Frozen Four Semi-Final
Team Regular Season Record Playoffs Record Regional Semi-Final Regional Final Frozen Four Semi-Final
Massachusetts 26-8-0 5-1-0 W 4-0 Harvard W 4-0 Notre Dame W 4-3(OT) Denver
Minnesota-Duluth 21-11-2 7-0-0 W 2-1(OT) Bowling Green W 3-1 Quinnipiac W 4-1 Providence

April 13th, 2019 at 8PM EST
KeyBank Center, Buffalo NY
How to Watch: ESPN2, TSN2, ESPN/TSN apps

Disallowed goals, hits to the head, and ejections were the stories of Thursday’s semi-final games. Both UMD and UMass overcame adversity in their semi-finals and will play for a national championship tonight.

The Semi-Finals

Minnesota-Duluth are the reigning national champions, having reached the Frozen Four final for the third time in the last three seasons. It was drastically different in pace compared to the second semi-final, as goals didn’t come until the second period. The Bulldogs overcame two disallowed goals in the semi-final against Providence and added two empty-netters to wrap up what was otherwise a fairly close game. Providence, only down by a goal until late, tried desperately to force overtime, but came up short.

This is UMass’ first berth to the Frozen Four ever, and their first chance to play for a national title in school history. Their path to the championship game was nearly derailed by two ejections to key players and a furious comeback by Denver in the semi-finals. Captain Niko Hildenbrand and top line winger Mitchell Chaffee were both ejected for hits to the head, and UMass spent majority of the game on their heels and on the penalty kill. After UMass scored three straight powerplay goals, Denver dominated at even-strength in the third period, allowing them to come back from a 3-1 deficit. Although Denver skated circles around UMass for much of the overtime frame as well, freshman defensemen Marc Del Gaizo hammered home to the overtime winner to send UMass to its first NCAA final.

How They’ll Win

Minnesota-Duluth

Defense wins championships. The Bulldogs have allowed the fourth-least amount of goals in the NCAA (1.95 goals per game). Goaltender Hunter Shepard has a .920 save percentage this season, is 7-0-0 in NCAA tournament games, and has only allowed three goals in his last three games. They won’t bend easily to UMass’ speed and relentless forecheck. Plus, they’ve got the edge in experience, given it’s their third straight berth to the final. They know what it feels like to lose — and what it takes to win.

Massachusetts

UMass thrives on using their transition up the ice as a catalyst for offense. It’s why we so often see Cale Makar driving through the neutral zone (or on a breakaway). But they were also extremely effective in limiting Denver’s zone entries with stick checks and pressuring puck carriers (when they weren’t killing penalties, that is). They’ll need to get back to their game — and if that leads to a few powerplay opportunities, well, that couldn’t hurt.

Why They Won’t

Minnesota-Duluth

Repeat champions are almost unheard of these days — Denver was the last team to do it in 2004 and 2005. The NCHC conference (which the Bulldogs play in) didn’t exist then. That’s not the most convincing reason, I know. A fast start to build momentum is critical — it’s how they won last year’s championship game. They had solid starts against Quinnipiac and Providence. But if they let UMass gain momentum early, which they are known for doing, it’s going to be a long night for them.

Massachusetts

Penalties. UMass is not known for being an undisciplined team, but against Denver, they were. They spent 34 minutes on the penalty kill, which is over half the game. Their extended stint killing penalties prevented them from getting any offense going, and made it easier for Denver to get them off their game. They’ll need to stay out of the box and out of their own end if they want to win their first national championship. Plus, we’ll see how much fatigue plays into this — UMass looked gassed by the end of the third period on Thursday.

Player to Watch

Minnesota-Duluth

Parker MacKay. The senior and Bulldogs captain has four points (three goals, one assist) in his last three games.

Massachusetts

Newly-minted Hobey Baker winner Cale Makar. Obviously. But really, keep an eye on the defense as a whole. All three pairs have great defensive awareness and are capable of driving offense.

Suspension News

The NCAA announced yesterday that UMass forward Bobby Trivigno would be suspended for the championship final as a result of his elbow to the head of Denver forward Jake Durflinger.

There was no call on the ice at the time of the hit, and Denver neglected to use their coach’s challenge to review the play. Had Trivigno been penalized in-game, he would have been available to play tonight. It’s a huge blow to UMass’ forward depth — Trivigno scored the Minutemen’s first goal against Denver. The freshman will finish the season with 28 points in 39 games.


Poll

Who Wins?

This poll is closed

  • 77%
    Massachusetts
    (77 votes)
  • 22%
    Minnesota-Duluth
    (22 votes)
99 votes total Vote Now

We wanted to punish Adam (@ElSeldo) so we sent him to Buffalo. While he’s there we figured he might as well cover the Frozen Four. He caught the Makar media availibility after the semifinal win over DU.

Here’s what he had to say:

Q. Cale, who stepped up in the locker room between the third period and overtime to help get you guys refocused?

CALE MAKAR: I think it’s been a transition from, like, a few guys all year to now everybody. I’d say a guy that definitely stepped up today was Mario. He’s just an energy guy. He gets the boys going. I don’t know if you guys seen the video that UMass posted on Twitter, he’s pretty energetic.

No, we have a lot of guys on this team that can bring the energy. We just have to keep it high.

Q. Do you feel proud of what it says about your character to have absorbed the emotional hit of losing the lead in the third period, coming back in overtime?

MARC DEL GAIZO: Yeah, I mean, we’re a young team, but we learned. Just like we learned in Boston, we’ve been learning all year. I don’t think there was any panic really on the bench. We regrouped and got back together for the overtime.

CALE MAKAR: Exactly what he said. Nobody’s panicking. Everybody in the room was calm. We knew when we got the opportunity on the ice, we’d put one in. Fortunately this guy did for us.

Q. Cale, can you appreciate how big a moment this is for a program that’s had so little success?

CALE MAKAR: No, it’s a very big moment for our program. I think the thing we’re going to be stressing tomorrow is we’re not done yet. It’s going to be a thing on our team of not getting complacent. When teams get complacent, they start to die.

We’re going to come back on Saturday, hopefully it will be a good one. It’s definitely special for this school and program.

Q. Cale, a lot of people know about your game, but what is it about Marc’s game that makes your pairing so effective?

CALE MAKAR: We’re very similar players, I think. We kind of go hand-in-hand in the way that we’re moving. When he’s up in the rush, I’m back, or vice versa. I think we read each other really well. We’re able to communicate well on the defensive and offensive zone.

Q. Cale, previous to the overtime the special teams were critical. Can you talk about that.

CALE MAKAR: I think everyone knows special teams can win you games. We were able to capitalize on a few opportunities the first period. We just kind of went from there. They started to outplay us a little bit five-on-five. We wanted to focus on that going into the third period. I think we weathered the storm fairly well.

Q. When you get to the point in the fourth period when people get tired, is there more of a thought to get as many pucks as you can on the net because everybody’s tired?

CALE MAKAR: Yeah, everybody is on edge when you go into OT. One bad bounce, it could be turning out badly for your team or good for your team. Fortunately for us, he put one in.

No, it’s something we try to focus on especially all throughout the game is getting pucks on net and getting traffic.

Q. Did you feel like you fed off of Lindberg’s energy in the overtime period?

CALE MAKAR: Yeah, he’s been a backbone for us on the team. Obviously when we see him make big saves like that, it’s a big confidence booster for us on the bench. It gets us pretty fired up.

It’s awesome to have that guy back there.