With experience on their side, UMass knows what to expect in Frozen Four
The UMass Minutemen have been here before; they know what playing in a Frozen Four looks like, and they know what comes with it.
Two years ago the Minutemen defeated Denver in overtime in the national semifinal before moving onto the national championship where they were shutout by Minnesota Duluth.
It was an experience that taught UMass head coach Greg Carvel a lot.
“Difference this time is we’re all pretty excited to go in there with some experience. Last time it was eyes wide open, just go where we were told and 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,” said Carvel.
“The experience we think will be very helpful for us this time.”
After their overtime semifinal win over Denver that took that game past midnight, the next day featured media availability, practice and the Hobey Baker ceremony where defenseman Cale Makar won the honor.
The following day the Minutemen had to get it all together and prepare themselves to play in a national championship.
“I felt in the championship game even though it wasn’t the next day—we’d played till after midnight in an overtime game against Denver and the next day, the itinerary had us up and going and it was too much,” said Carvel.
“Cale Makar had the Hobey Baker ceremony and after that his Dad told me Cale was gassed. We kind of—I don’t want to say limped in, but we were a tired team going into that championship game.”
COVID took away UMass’ chance at getting back to the Frozen Four last season. Regardless of what would have happened in the Hockey East playoffs, the Minutemen would have qualified for the NCAA Tournament.
Losing some key pieces from their last two successful teams, the Minutemen surprised many this year, winning the Hockey East playoffs.
After wins in the regional portion of the NCAA Tournament over Lake Superior State and Bemidji State, UMass finds themselves back in the Frozen Four and yet again, a date with Minnesota Duluth.
“I think this team deserves to be in the Frozen Four. We haven’t lost a game since January, we’re 9-0-3 in our last 12 games, [our] team is playing very well,” said Carvel. “The last time we played Duluth it wasn’t close, they shut the door on us. They beat us 3-0 and we expect we will have an equally tough challenge this time.”
The Minutemen will arrive in Pittsburgh Monday evening and already have begun discussions on how differently they will do things this time around.
“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 but there won’t be as many distractions because of COVID,” said Carvel.
“We learned we have to do what’s best for our players first, and last time I don’t think we did that well enough.”
Even if UMass wanted to do things the same exact way as they did in Buffalo two years ago, going through a Frozen Four in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic changes the game a bit.
Thursday will mark the first time UMass plays in front of fans this season.
“It’s really special in this crazy year, that this group of kids have been able to do what they have and they get rewarded by what should be a great experience in Pittsburgh,” said Carvel.
“It was awesome in Buffalo two years ago and the fact that there will be around 7,000 fans in the building is going to be strange, we’ve come accustomed to having no fans in the building.”