PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The University of Massachusetts was in control for the majority of the game and beat St. Cloud State 5-0 to pick up its first NCAA Division I men's hockey championship on Saturday at PPG Paints Center.
The Minutemen (20-5-4) won the title after finishing second in 2019 in Buffalo. The loss for the Huskies (20-11-0) snaps a streak of NCAA titles for the NCHC. North Dakota (2016), Denver (2017) and Minnesota Duluth (2018, 2019) were the NCHC teams that had won the title over the last four tournaments.
UMass led 2-0 after the first period, but the game went on a steep downward slide for the Huskies when they were on the power play in the second period.
"We thought we had a good first period," said Huskies coach Brett Larson, whose team was outshot 7-3 in the first 20 minutes. "You wouldn't know it by the score, but we controlled the territory. Our main goal was to make them defend as much as possible.
"We thought we got a lot of 'O' zone early, and then unfortunately we have a player blow an edge and take another player out and they get a 2-on-0," Larson said of the first goal of the game by Aaron Bohlinger at 7:26 of the first period. "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."
UMass' Ryan Sullivan took a tripping penalty at 3:57 of the second period. The Huskies were moving the puck around and junior defenseman Nick Perbix was at about the hash mark along the boards when UMass got a turnover.
The puck skipped to the neutral zone and Philip Lagunov picked it up near the St. Cloud State blue line. Perbix got back into the Huskies' zone, but Lagunov made a toe drag move to get around him, got to the net and put a backhand that trickled through the legs of goalie David Hrenak at 5:10 for a 3-0 lead.
"We tried to make kind of a zone entry play that was a tough play," Huskies coach Brett Larson said. "And then a 1-on-1 type situation where we probably got a little overaggressive on it. And I thought that was the turning point of the game then when they went up 3-0."
UMass added a power-play goal by sophomore Matthew Kessel, a St. Louis Blues draft pick at 13:50 of the second period for a 4-0 lead and the rout was on.
Filip Lindberg, a junior from Espoo, Finland, and a Minnesota Wild draft pick, made 25 saves for his fourth shutout of the season and third in his last four starts.
St. Cloud State scored 15 goals in their first three NCAA tournament games against three of the top goalies in the nation: Boston University's Drew Commesso, Boston College's Spencer Knight and Minnesota State University-Mankato's Dryden McKay. While the Huskies managed 25 shots, they had a tough time getting to the middle of the ice and getting in front of Lindberg.
"They won the stick battles in front (of the net), boxed out pretty well and it just wasn't our night tonight," said sophomore wing Zach Okabe, who led the team with eight shots on goal.
"Once they got up, they went into a pretty structured 1-3-1 (forecheck) in the neutral zone, 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."
The Minutemen added another goal by Bobby Trivigno at 6:00 of the third period and they cruised to the championship.
The loss ends a magical run for the Huskies, who were 13-15-6 last season. St. Cloud State, unranked in preseason national polls and picked to finish fourth in the NCHC, took second in the conference during the regular season, second in the conference tournament and reached the national championship game for the first time in program history.
Despite those accomplishments, the end of the season was tough for the Huskies to take.
"I think it's kind of hard to say anything right now," St. Cloud State freshman wing Veeti Miettinen, who had four shots in the game. "And so much things going through your head and, I don't know. It's like a heartbreaking thing. So, I think you understand."
The Minutemen are the fourth team in five NCAA tournaments to lose in the Frozen Four and then return the next tournament and win the national title, joining North Dakota (2016), Denver (2017) and Minnesota Duluth (2018).
"UMass was standing on our blue line two years ago with a similar loss and they used it as fuel," Larson said. "I think for our guys to get a taste of getting this far — this is the farthest the Huskies hockey program has ever been. They did something special in 33 years of the (Division I) program just getting to this game.
"But I think we were just gripping it a little tight and weren't able to quite execute plays when we got the puck early. We had the jump. We had the work. But we were just gripping a little tight and forcing things.
"And I think that you could see UMass had been through it. Maybe a little bit more of a maturity level for having gone through it. And I know our guys are going to use this as fuel to get back here. And use this experience once we're here again to be better."
NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
UMass 5, SCSU 0
First period scoring — 1. UM, Aaron Bohlinger 1 (Ryan Sullivan 4, Ty Farmer 3) 7:26; 2. UM, Reed Lebster 2 (Cal Kiefiuk 4) 18:56.. Penalties — UM, Anthony Del Gaizo (slashing) 15:27.
Second period scoring — 3. UM, Philip Lagunov 4 (unassisted) 5:10 (sh); 4. UM, Matthew Kessel 10 (Oliver Chau 22, Jake Gaudet 8) 13:50 (pp).. Penalties — SCSU, Seamus Donohue (tripping) :24; UM, Sullivan (tripping) 3:57; UM, Jake Gaudet (elbowing) 10:31; SCSU, Bench (too many men) 12:35.
Third period scoring — 5. UM, Bobby Trivigno 11 (Lebster 1) 6:00 Penalties — None.
Goalie saves — SCSU, David Hrenak 5-4-8—17 (5 GA). UM, Filip Lindberg 3-12-10—25 (0 GA).
Penalties-minutes — SCSU 1-2; UM 3-6.
Power plays (shots) — SCSU 0-3 (4 shots); UM 1-2 (2 shots).
Faceoffs — UM 27-26.
Referees — Joe Carusone and C.J. Hanafin.
Linesemen — Ryan Knapp and Brian Oliver.
Attendance — 3,963.