Apr. 8—Two years ago in Buffalo, Minnesota Duluth brought a former club hockey goaltender, Andrew Dietrich, to the NCAA Frozen Four as the team's third-string goaltender after Ben Patt was lost for the second half of the season due to shoulder surgery.
Now former Massachusetts student equipment manager Zac Steigmeyer, a senior, is living the similar Division I hockey dream, only he'll be the Minutemen's backup goaltender for Thursday's 8 p.m. national semifinal against the Bulldogs at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
UMass is without four players due to COVID-19 protocols, including starting goaltender Filip Lindberg and third-string goaltender Henry Graham. Senior wing Carson Gicewicz, the team's leading goal scorer, and sophomore Jerry Harding are also out.
UMass coach Greg Carvel said they learned of a single positive COVID-19 test result within the program last Friday, and that led to three other players — who have still not tested positive — also landing in quarantine after contact tracing. Carvel didn't reveal who among the four players not playing Thursday tested positive.
Initially, UMass thought it would have to suit up a forward or defenseman as a goaltender — something Carvel said no player wanted to do — until he was reminded of Steigmeyer, who played goaltender in high school. While not ideal — Steigmeyer graduated in 2017 and came straight to UMass — it was better than forcing a skater to play goalie in the Frozen Four.
Carvel said they quickly called up their compliance office, which in a matter of days was able to get Steigmeyer cleared and rostered with the Minutemen.
"The way things are going, someone is going to write a book about this. It's getting almost ridiculous," Carvel said. "The one thing we said to the players is let's try to limit distractions and keep our focus and this goalie thing has become a big distraction, but it's kind of funny too."
Carvel said Steigmeyer's first Frozen Four practice was short Wednesday. During the first drill, his skate blade went flying off into the corner and he missed 75 percent of practice.
"His spotlight got shortened quite a bit by a large percentage. I hope that we don't have to see him again," Carvel said. "He claims he has experience, but he didn't stop too many pucks the two days I watched him."
While the coach may not have much confidence in his equipment manager's goaltending skills, he did rave about him as a person. Steigmeyer has been with the program for four seasons now, and he's like any other player on the team, which has helped with the quick transition.
Steigmeyer's teammates said Wednesday he's skated with the team previously, so it's not like the last two days are the first time he's ever faced a Division I shot.
"It's been awesome, Stags does a lot of hard work behind the scenes," said UMass sophomore forward Bobby Trivigno, a roommate of Steigmeyer's. "It's really cool for him to get the opportunity to be part of the team, be on the bench with us come Thursday. I'm really excited for him. It's cool, but we're ultimately focused on the game against Duluth."
Senior backup goaltender Matt Murray, also a roommate of Steigmeyer's, will make his first start since Jan. 18 on Thursday against UMD. He started 13 of UMass' first 15 games this season while Lindberg battled an injury, posting a 9-4 record with a .913 save percentage, 2.01 goals against average and three shutouts.
Murray holds the UMass program record for career shutouts with 11 and wins with 51, while the four shutouts he had as a freshman and 20 wins as a sophomore are both single-season program records.
Carvel said he hates calling Murray a backup.
"I'm not concerned about the goaltending," Carvel said. "I'm concerned about the team in front of him. Hopefully he has an easy night because the team in front of him plays well. If we have to rely on our goaltender to make a lot of saves, we won't win the game."
Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said the shakeup of the roster at UMass hasn't changed how his team is preparing for the Minutemen. It's unfortunate what happened, but UMass is still a good, deep hockey team, Sandelin said.
"You've seen it time and time again, whether there's injuries, guys step up," Sandelin said. "I'm sure that's going to be the same with those guys tomorrow. We've got to bring our best and we've got to focus on what we need to do."