The University of Massachusetts men’s team has never won a conference championship in hockey. Before this season they had just one NCAA tournament appearance in 2007. Twenty-five seasons of division 1 men’s hockey and not a single trophy.
After a 3-0 loss to current NCAA hockey powerhouse University of Minnesota-Duluth, the dream is still out of reach. Even though the loudest part of the crowd was on their side, the Minutemen will have to be happy to be the first team from U-Mass to reach the finals, and try for a title next year.
If you didn’t know better you would have assumed this was a home game for U-Mass, as the chants from the fans and songs from the band began well before warm ups, and the booing of UMD came just as quickly.
The game begins with almost the entire first five minutes spent in the U-Mass zone, with the Bulldogs applying more pressure in those first few than Denver did all game on Thursday. It’s not helped when overtime hero Marc Del Gaizo takes a two minute minor for tripping, and the Bulldogs will score just before the power play comes to an end.
The Minutemen will trap UMD in their own zone for a few minutes but can’t score, despite catching every clearing attempt the Bulldogs make. Makar gets two shots off while the pucks in the offensive zone.
The Bulldogs continue to hold onto the balance of power in this game, and halfway through the period lead U-Mass in shots 9-2.
U-Mass gets their first power play of the game 13 minutes in when Scott Perunovich gets call for holding, and this is big since almost all of the goals in their semi-final game came with the man advantage. It won’t come this time as UMD doesn’t give them much space to work with.
After the penalty Makar gets the puck and skates around the UMD zone for a wrap around chance, but Hunter Sheppard isn’t leaving an inch of space for the puck to get through.
As the first period is winding down, U-Mass forward Jake Gaudet hits Peter Krieger and gets two minutes for incidental head contact, giving the Bulldogs a power play as the clock ticks down. The period ends with 37 seconds left on the penalty.
After twenty, it’s U-Mass 0, UMD 1. Shots are 14-5 in the Bulldogs favour, with two shots coming from Cale Makar, who also had one shot go wide and one shot go blocked.
U-Mass is able to kill off the penalty, and keep the puck out of the net for the first half of the second. The two teams trade breakaways, but neither is able to score.
Through most of the period UMD is smothering attempts by U-Mass, and keeping them from getting near the net. The Minutemen barely make it to tn shots after two periods, and can’t figure out the Bulldogs defense. The defense plays a key role in the next goal, while the forwards are screening Filip Lindberg, Bulldogs defender Mikey Anderson scores to make it 2-0 UMD.
Behind the U-Mass net, Cale Makar gets an elbow to the head from Bulldog Noah Cates, who gets two minutes for roughing, and the Minutemen get another power play.
The Bulldogs easily kill off the penalty, and with 18 seconds left in the period, Makar leans into a hit on Cole Koepke and gets two minutes himself.
The second period ends and gives the Bulldogs 1:42 of a power play to finish off in the third. After two it’s 2-0 UMD and shots are 25-12 in the Bulldogs favour.
The third period begins with U-Mass forward Niko Hildenbrand coming into the Bulldogs zone one on two, but isn’t able to get a decent shot at net. The power play ends with that one chance, and the Bulldogs defending well.
In a rare moment in the offensive zone, U-Mass defender Colin Fenix gets tied up with UMD’s Kobe Roth, and Roth ends up on top of Fenix, giving U-Mass another power play.
Cale Makar plays point on the power play, and has good positioning, but UMD won’t let the Minutemen set up or have much puck time in the offensive zone. The penalty expires, and the Bulldogs still lead 2-0.
To the Minutemen fans credit, they aren’t taking this loss lying down. With five minutes left the arena is still rocking with cheers for the Frozen Four rookies. At that five minute mark UMD’s Peter Krieger grabs Makar by the face and drags him down for a holding penalty, giving U-Mass an important man advantage.
U-Mass takes just a little too long to set up plays, and take shots, as the Bulldogs continue to poke the puck away and keep U-Mass from getting any chances. Just as the penalty expires, UMD gets the puck down to the U-Mass net and gets it past Lindberg on an odd angle.
Kurt Keates gets frustrated and takes a holding penalty with less than two minutes to go, giving the Bulldogs a power play to end the game. UMD plays coy with the puck to run out the clock as it counts down to their second NCAA title in two years.
Cale Makar and the Minutemen fall to the UMD Bulldogs 3-0, and they will collect their thoughts and pat each other on the back as the UMD fight song plays.
Cale Makar was available post-game in the press conference:
Q. As difficult was this moment might feel for you right now, can you at least appreciate what this team has accomplished going through what you have gone through, to be here?
CALE MAKAR: Yeah, it’s tough right now. I’m pretty sour. But you look back at the two years that I’ve been respect that we’ve created for this emblem of Massachusetts and UMass, it’s just amazing. The group of guys we have in that room are just a testament to the character guys we’re going to be bringing in in the future, as well.
Q. Cale, you played some great defensive teams. What was Duluth able to do better to shut you guys down?
CALE MAKAR: Honestly, tonight they just out-competed us. I give them a lot of credit. They just closed down on our wingers very well. We just didn’t have an attack for that. We didn’t really adjust as D.
Unfortunately that’s what lost us the game.
Q. Cale, coach maybe joked a little bit. How long are you going to allow yourself to let this sink in before you do have to make a decision about your future?
CALE MAKAR: Honestly, just depends. Probably go out and talk to a my parents for a little bit. Everything is just kind of up in the air right now.
Q. Cale, after the game you obviously shed your equipment, but you put your UMass jersey back on. Any significance with that?
CALE MAKAR: I mean, I just want to keep it on as long as I can. It’s a jersey that I’m very proud to wear. Our team has brought so much respect, like I said, to this program. Honestly, it’s going to be a couple years that I never forget in my entire life.
Q. Does this feel like you have set a new standard for what UMass is shooting for, trying to achieve going forward?
CALE MAKAR: 100%. The culture that we’ve instilled in all these guys, the coaches that have put it on us, everybody has just bought in. That’s one of the main reasons we’ve been such a success this year, why this team will be such a success in the years to come.
It’s just a culture that everybody’s bought into.
Q. You talked about how well Minnesota Duluth shut your team down. What adjustments did you try to make during the game?
CALE MAKAR: I think we switched up our wingers, whether it was halfway through or not, just in terms of the wall side. We were trying to get pucks, getting them to the middle. They were pinching pretty hard on the half wall. We just started trying to compete harder, yeah.
Q. Cale, can you talk a little bit about your pride in wearing that jersey, what being a part of this program and on campus has done for you?
CALE MAKAR: I’m so very honored and humbled to put this jersey on every single game. Our practice jerseys, as well. I’m so fortunate that I chose this school, under such great staff, not just the coaches but support staff, training and everything as well.
It’s just a sense of pride now. As I touched on, we brought so much respect to this crest. This program is no longer an embarrassment. Everybody can look at us as a program that’s going to be successful for years.
Q. Cale, the power play has been such a strength for you guys all season. What did Duluth do to not let you get that momentum?
CALE MAKAR: They pressured us really hard. We bobbled the puck a little bit. But ultimately we just couldn’t make plays and get the puck off the half wall to kind of recover in the middle of the ice and get it up high.
Makar will now make the decision to sign and join the Colorado Avalanche as rumored, or stay in school the rest of this year.