College hockey pushed through challenging season to a UMass title

PITTSBURGH – Well, that's a wrap on the 2020-21 college hockey season, which ended Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena with Massachusetts' 5-0 victory over St. Cloud State for the NCAA Division I men's championship. A season that started in late November instead of early October because of the coronavirus pandemic concluded in front of a limited crowd of 3,963 in the Pittsburgh Penguins arena.

All along the way, extreme measures were taken to preserve the season while the specter of COVID-19 loomed. From the NCHC's Omaha Pod to Arizona State playing an all-Big Ten schedule with every game on the road, to conference tournaments being truncated and sequestered, teams hunkered down, avoided family and friends and did whatever they could to keep the virus away.

The measures didn't always work, and three NCAA tournament teams — St. Lawrence, Notre Dame and Michigan — had their seasons shut down before they could play. Even UMass dealt with coronavirus issues when starting goalie Filip Lindberg and leading goal-scorer Carson Gicewicz were ruled out of the Frozen Four semifinal against Minnesota Duluth.

Turns out, though, that the Minutemen survived those one-game absences and were the last team standing in Pittsburgh after their victory over St. Cloud State. Here are some observations from a fun and busy four days in the Iron City:

To the victor go the spoilsMinnesota placed all five of its teams in the national tournament, each won at least one game and three of them made it to the Frozen Four. What the state couldn't do was beat UMass, which rolled past Bemidji State, Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State by a combined 12-2 on the way to the title.

On Sunday, the Hockey East Twitter account proclaimed, "The State of Hockey is officially Massachusetts."

That point certainly can be debated, and the fact that Minnesota had 115 players on rosters of the 16 NCAA tournament teams while the commonwealth of Massachusetts had only 22 might be a strong rebuttal. But give UMass its due for dominance. On the way to winning both the Hockey East and NCAA tournaments, the Minutemen outscored seven opponents by 27-5.

"Being the only team from the East, we definitely take pride in that," UMass All-America forward Bobby Trivigno said before Thursday's semifinals. "We can definitely compete with these teams. We do take great pride in being from the East Coast."

Trivigno backed that up by winning the Frozen Four's most outstanding player award. He was especially important in the 3-2 overtime triumph over Minnesota Duluth in the semifinals, when he set up the winning goal by Garrett Wait, who, by the way, is a Minnesotan.

Thrilling ThursdayCollege hockey doesn't get much better than Thursday's semifinals, when St. Cloud State and Minnesota State Mankato started the tournament on a high note with a back-and-forth thriller that the Huskies ultimately won 5-4 for their first berth in the national championship game.

St. Cloud State had a 3-1 lead over Minnesota State 2:40 into the second period on Will Hammer's goal and appeared to have the game under control. Instead, the Mavericks scored the next three goals, with Dallas Gerads giving MSU a 4-3 lead 4:18 into third period. Joe Molenaar tied it for the Huskies with 9:44 to play, and with the clock ticking down, overtime looked likely. Nolan Walker, however, settled it with an outstanding tip of a Seamus Donohue shot from the point for the winner with 54 seconds to go.

UMass followed in the night semifinal by doing what no team could do during Minnesota Duluth's two-year NCAA reign: rally from a third-period deficit to beat the Bulldogs.

That set up the Minutemen's Saturday coronation, which coach Greg Carvel made sure his team would soak in as the clock ticked down.

"I wanted them to come in tight and look each other in the eyes and try to remember the moment," he said. "Honestly, it will be the best moment of their life."

Randy Johnson covers college hockey for the Star Tribune and edits the Puck Drop blog. Twitter: @RJstrib. E-mail: