In a season as tumultuous as this one, UMass was victorious.
The Massachusetts hockey team won its first-ever Hockey East Championship on Saturday evening. It took UMass about 27 years to get the first. If the time was right, it would of course always be a special evening.
Yes, the Minutemens’ stingy defense, a keen scoring ability and strong goalkeeping power won them the game against Lowell 1-0 and played right to their strengths. Yes, under head coach Greg Carvel, UMass underwent a facelift that even the best plastic surgeons dream of.
And yes, Bobby Trivigno dropped an F-bomb on television live. Apologies in advance for those without DVR.
But what made this even more special than anyone could have ever imagined was the sacrifices of players, coaches and staff to keep playing hockey during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Let’s be the best at dealing with COVID, Carvel told his team at the start of the 2020-21 season. Let’s make it an advantage for us and I think early on, in the first half of the year, it could be a real benefit because we weren’t shut down. You play teams that don’t have as much experience as you, our number of games played. So our sacrifice was let’s really take care of ourselves.
Taking care of themselves started in September when the team arrived in Amherst and practiced day after day for nearly three months without knowing when the season would start. There were no opponents, no movie to watch, no teams to prepare for. Just constantly fighting the same guys doing the same exercises.
Then it came to stay in. Hockey, Zoom lesson, eat, sleep, repeat. Gone was the social life and normal student life to which the students from the upper classes had become accustomed. For the freshmen and transfers, everything they thought the university, especially UMass, would be, was uprooted. Most players last saw their parents in August, which meant that most didn’t make it by Christmas.
In the end, they were the only team at UMass not to register a single positive test.
Our players stayed out of trouble, stayed out of bad situations to avoid the virus and that’s a sacrifice, Carvel said after the game via Zoom. How do you handle that? These children did an excellent job.
When the schedule came it was constantly changing. The normal pre-scouting routines of opponents went out the windows of Mullins Center when the opponent was announced for Friday’s games on Wednesday.
That’s life in this pandemic for a hockey team. That doesn’t make it easy.
The Minutemen had their ups and they had their downs. The ups were the win-streak of seven games and beating No. 1 BC at Chestnut Hill. The downs started the year extremely inconsistent, losing to Maine in a shootout to end it.
The only time the University refused to allow them to play was for a two-week athletics-wide shutdown in mid-February in response to the rapidly increasing cases at UMass.
There were no exercises in those two weeks. Instead, they ran a book club.
I am really proud of our team, said UMass captain Jake Gaudet after winning the Hockey East title. Guys have done a great job of being safe. We were able to play all year round and it was great.
Carvel and the gang went 5-0-1 in the six games since that shutdown, scoring the opponents 24-9. One of these was Providence’s 8-1 beating. Another was the close, 1-0 win over Lowell to win the whole.
There would have been a lot for them to be proud of, even if they didn’t win on Saturday night. The Minutemen had already placed themselves in a top position for the national tournament. Maybe even a loss in the Hockey East playoffs would have motivated them even more for the big dance.
But those are all hypotheses because they won and emerged as the champions of Hockey East for the first time in school history.
That is made even sweeter by the number of sacrifices and hurdles they have overcome to win in a season as tumultuous as this one.
With Saturday’s win, it’s safe to say they really were the best at dealing with COVID.
Evan Marinofsky can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @emarinofsky.
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