PITTSBURGH – The news that Massachusetts coach Greg Carvel received Tuesday certainly appeared devastating: His leading goal-scorer, Carson Gicewicz, and starting goalie, Filip Lindberg, will not be available to play in Thursday's NCAA Frozen Four semifinal vs. Minnesota Duluth because of COVID-19 issues.
Carvel, however, isn't about to concede anything to the Bulldogs in a rematch of the 2019 national championship game, won 3-0 by UMD.
"This team absolutely deserves to be here," he said. "It will be fun to play Duluth again and see where we're at two years later. They still are the standard-bearer."
Gicewicz's production — 17 goals this season, four in the NCAA East Regional — will be difficult for the Minutemen to replace. In goal, they will miss Lindberg, whose 1.33 goals-against average and .946 save percentage both lead the nation. However, they do have an experienced netminder in senior Matt Murray, who is 9-4 with a 2.01 GAA and .913 save percentage.
"I hate to call him a backup goalie because he owns the record for wins and shutouts in our program history," Carvel said. "I'm not concerned about the goaltending; I'm concerned about the team in front of him."
Carvel was worried UMass wouldn't get to play at all if the COVID-19 scare spread to more than one person. But an outbreak hasn't followed.
"This is a tough year. Every team has had to deal with obstacles along the way," Carvel said. "We're looking at it as a slight disadvantage. It's not a big deal."
To the rescue
The loss of Lindberg and third-string goalie Henry Graham to COVID-19 issues left Carvel scrambling for a backup to Murray. His option came down to senior equipment manager Zac Steigmeyer, a former prep netminder.
Fearing distraction, Carvel hesitated to give details of the feel-good story but relented.
"The way things are going, someone's going to write a book about it. It's almost getting ridiculous," he said.
Carvel said he and his coaching staff were considering having a non-goalie on the roster put the pads on, but no one was volunteering.
"We knew all along Zac is a former goalie," Carvel said. "… Then I thought, 'Can we roster this kid?' We quickly called compliance, and he's eligible."
During the Minutemen's first drill Wednesday, "his skate blade goes flying off into the corner," Carvel said. "He missed 75 percent of practice. His couple days in the spotlight got shortened by a large percentage. I hope we don't have to see him [on the ice] again. … He's been an awesome part of this program."
When the NCAA tournament began, there were 115 players from Minnesota on the 16 teams that qualified, far more than the next-closest state or province, Michigan with 33. Now that the field has been pared to four teams, Minnesota has 43 players in the Frozen Four. Minnesota Duluth has 17, St. Cloud State 14, Minnesota State Mankato 11 and Massachusetts one. The next-closest state or providence is Ontario with nine, followed by Alberta and Michigan with six each.
For St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson, seeing those figures is a source of pride.
"Think about Herb Brooks and what his vision was when he took St. Cloud State to the Division I level," Larson said. "He wanted to create more opportunities for kids in Minnesota to play Division I college hockey, to grow the game and grow the sport in Minnesota. … He'd be pretty darn proud of where we're at, seeing three teams and all these kids in this tournament."