UMass hockey: Breaking down the four teams (Denver, Maine, Cornell, UMass) in the Springfield Regional

UMass freshman Jack Musa (9) tries to sneak a shot past Maine goalie Albin Boija during action earlier this season at the Mullins Center. Both schools will play in the Springfield Regional at this week’s NCAA Division 1 Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament at the MassMutual Center along with Denver and Cornell.

UMass freshman Jack Musa (9) tries to sneak a shot past Maine goalie Albin Boija during action earlier this season at the Mullins Center. Both schools will play in the Springfield Regional at this week’s NCAA Division 1 Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament at the MassMutual Center along with Denver and Cornell. PHOTO BY CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

UMass’ Michael Cameron (27), left, and Cam O’Neill (8) celebrate against Maine earlier this season at the Mullins Center.

UMass’ Michael Cameron (27), left, and Cam O’Neill (8) celebrate against Maine earlier this season at the Mullins Center. PHOTO BY CHRIS TUCCI/UMASS ATHLETICS

By JEFF LAJOIE

Staff Writer

Published: 03-26-2024 4:52 PM

Modified: 03-26-2024 5:04 PM


SPRINGFIELD — For the first time ever, Springfield will serve as a regional host for the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Ice Hockey Tournament this week.

The MassMutual Center will play host to Denver, Maine, Cornell and UMass in a four-team regional with a spot in the Frozen Four up for grabs. Action begins on Thursday when Denver and UMass meet at 2 p.m., followed by Maine and Cornell at 5:30. The winners of both games will play for the regional final on Saturday at 4 p.m.

The last time western Massachusetts played host to an NCAA regional was back in 2005, when the Mullins Center in Amherst served as host. Denver was also the top seed in that regional, and went on to win the national championship.

Here’s a closer look at the four teams that will be participating in the Northeast Regional:

Denver

Seed: No. 1

Head coach: David Carle, 6th season

Record: 27-9-3

Conference: NCHC, won conference tournament

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Tournament history: 33rd appearance (41-26 all-time record), 9 national titles

Players to watch: Jack Devine, F (27 goals, 28 assists), Zeev Buium, D (11 g, 37 a), Sean Behrens, D (4 g, 25 a), Shai Buium, D (7 g, 27 a), Aidan Thompson, C (11 g, 19 a)

Outlook: The Pioneers are in the national tournament for the 33rd time in program history, and 15th consecutive season dating back to 2008. Denver’s nine national titles are tied with Michigan for the most in college hockey history.

This year’s roster features 12 NHL draft picks, including an embarrassment of riches on defense. That starts with Zeev Buium, the 18-year-old freshman defenseman who is a likely top 15 pick in this June’s NHL Draft. Buium, who starred on the U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP) prior to his time at Denver, joins older brother Shai Buium (a Detroit Red Wings pick) with the Pioneers.

While the Buium brothers are plenty talented along the blue line, Denver also has Colorado Avalanche second-round pick Sean Behrens in its defensive unit, and would’ve been even deeper if not for a season-ending injury to Winnipeg Jets pick Garrett Brown back in November.

Offensively, Denver enters as the No. 1-scoring team in the country (4.85 goals per game). Junior forward Jack Devine, who leads the team with 55 points, and sophomore center Aidan Thompson are both top scoring options up front.

Despite the talent along the blue line, the Pioneers have given up some goals this year. Junior goalie Matt Davis boats just a .905 save percentage (47th in the country) to go with a 19-5-3 record and a 2.64 goals against average. In 14 of his 27 appearances, Davis has allowed three goals or more to opposing offenses.

Maine

Seed: No. 2

Head coach: Ben Barr, 3rd season

Record: 23-11-2

Conference: Hockey East, lost to BU in tournament semifinals

Tournament history: 20th appearance (30-20 all-time record), 2 national titles

Players to watch: Bradly Nadeau, F (19 g, 27 a), Josh Nadeau, F (18 g, 27 a), Lyden Breen, F (9 g, 21 a)

Outlook: The Black Bears return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012, though they haven’t won a game in the Big Dance since beating UMass all the way back in 2007 for a spot in the Frozen Four. The program has appeared in 11 Frozen Fours overall, and won national titles in 1993 and 1999.

Brothers Bradly and Josh Nadeau bring the offensive firepower for Maine. The 18-year-old Bradly, a 2023 first round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes, had two goals and two assists in a Hockey East quarterfinal win over New Hampshire earlier this month. Behind those two, and Breen, Maine is still plenty balanced with seven players notching at least 20 points on the season.

Maine averages the most shots of any Hockey East school, and were second in the league in faceoff winning percentage.

Head coach Ben Barr has quickly transformed the Black Bears back to national contenders in just his third year on the job. The former UMass associate coach, who was with the Minutemen for five years under Greg Carvel including their 2021 national championship run, just signed a contract extension at Maine back in January.

Freshman goalie Albin Boija, who is 10-6-1 in net, snatched control of the job full time in the second half of the season from last year’s starter and all-league performer Victor Ostman. Boija has a 2.01 goals against average (fourth in the country) and a .916 save percentage (20th), posting two shutouts along the way.

Cornell

Seed: No. 3

Head coach: Mike Schafer, 29th season

Record: 21-6-6

Conference: ECAC, won conference tournament

Tournament history: 25th appearance (20-24 all-time record)

Players to watch: Gabriel Seger, F (14 g, 28 a), Jonathan Castagna, F (11 g, 14 a), Ian Shane, G (21-4-6 record), Dalton Bancroft, F (12 g, 19 a)

Outlook: The Big Red have been to eight Frozen Fours, most recently in 2003, but enter the NCAAs on a tear after winning the ECAC tourney title in Lake Placid, N.Y. last weekend.

Cornell beat Denver in the opening round of last year’s tournament before falling to Boston University in the regional final in Manchester, N.H.

The Big Red have one of the top goalies in the country, as junior Ian Shane boasts a 21-4-6 record and leads the entire country by a healthy margin with a 1.70 goals against average. He’s also 10th in the country in save percentage (.922) and has three shutouts to his credit. In 24 of his 31 appearances, Shane has allowed two goals or fewer, and Cornell as a team allows the fewest goals in the country (1.88) — the only other team under two per game is Quinnipiac (1.95). 

Defensemen George Fegaras (Dallas) and Hoyt Stanley (Ottawa) are both recent draft selections helping anchor the back end. Stanley scored his first collegiate goal against UMass when the teams met back in December in Lake Placid.

Freshman Jonathan Castagna, fourth on the team in points, was Cornell’s highest draft pick in 2023 as a third-round pick of the Arizona Coyotes. 

UMass

Seed: No. 4

Head coach: Greg Carvel, 8th season

Record: 20-13-3

Conference: Hockey East, lost to BC in tournament semifinals

Tournament history: 5th appearance (8-3 all-time record), 1 national title

Players to watch: Ryan Ufko, D (10 g, 16 a), Aydar Suniev, F (12 g, 12 a), Scott Morrow, D (6 g, 24 a), Jack Musa (12 g, 17 a)

Outlook: The 2021 national champions are playing in their fourth NCAA tournament in the past five iterations, earning a spot in the 16-team field as the final at-large selection.

Hosts of the Springfield Regional, expect a sizable contingent of Minutemen supporters. With three northeast teams in the bracket, attendance should be strong in the 6,800-seat MassMutual Center.

UMass has 13 NHL draft picks on its roster, including seven taken in the first four rounds of their respective drafts. 

NHL picks Ryan Ufko (Nashville) and Scott Morrow (Carolina) are both juniors with plenty of big-game experience, and they anchor the defensive pairings for UMass. Both are in the top three for points on the team, with Morrow leading the way for the second year in a row as the Minutemen’s leading scorer.

While UMass is experienced at the blue line, up front is a different story. Freshmen Aydar Suniev (Calgary), Jack Musa and Dans Locmelis (Boston), and sophomores Kenny Connors (Los Angeles) and Cole O’Hara (Nashville) are all top 9 in points for the Minutemen, and all will make their first NCAA tournament appearances against Denver.

But the length of UMass’ tourney stay with likely fall on the shoulders of freshman goalie Michael Hrabal. Last year’s Arizona Coyotes second-round pick is 16-10-1 on the season with a 2.61 goals against average (34th in the country) and a .912 save percentage (31st). The 6-foo-7 netminder has two shutouts on the season.