March 22, 2014

UMass-Lowell 4, New Hampshire 0: River Hawk repeat

By Joshua Kummins

UMass-Lowell defenseman Jake Suter celebrates his goal in the second period of the River Hawks' 4-0 victory over New Hampshire Saturday night. Suter's was the fourth goal of the night for the River Hawks, who won their second straight Hockey East title. (Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

Final: UMass Lowell 4, New Hampshire 0

Recap: In head coach Norm Bazin's three seasons, the River Hawks have lost just when leading after one period. After the first, lead they did. UNH junior goaltender Casey DeSmith (Rochester, N.H.) had some serious rebound control issues, directly leading to goals by sophomore A.J. White at 12:12 and senior Josh Holmstrom at 15:28.

White poked a puck loose from DeSmith in the cage and tucked it underneath, while senior Joe Pendenza's (Wilmington, Mass.) shot led right to Holmstrom in the slot for a look at a virtually open net.

Freshman center Joe Gambardella put Lowell up 3-0 at 3:13 of the second period, taking Terrence Wallin's pass into the slot and wristing it past DeSmith. To add insult to injury, junior defender Jake Suter wound up off the faceoff and beat DeSmith for Lowell's fourth goal at 18:43.

Pendenza had a goal in the first 30 seconds of the period waived off for a high stick, before DeSmith flashed the glove on a penalty shot attempt (after he was hauled down by UNH senior captain and defenseman Eric Knodel) a few minutes later.

Records: UMass Lowell 25-10-4, New Hampshire 22-18-1

Key Play of the Game: It sounds cliche, but scoring first won UMass Lowell the title for  a second year in a row. DeSmith had control of the puck, but White took it away and banged a rebound into the back of the net. Basically, UML doesn't lose when taking leads after one.

The River Hawks have not lost when leading after one period in the last two seasons and are 18-0-3 under that scenario this season.

Kummins' Commendations: Connor Hellebuyck. That's all you can really say.

The UML sophomore was tremendous as the River Hawks went back-to-back in the Hockey East title game for the first time since BC finished off three straight from 2010-12.

With about 12 minutes remaining in the third period, UML showed off its poise on a long sequence of Wildcat pressure as freshman Dylan Zink made a save on an open shot from the point to keep the shutout going where it would stay.

"Connor was stellar," UML head coach Norm Bazin said of the Michigan native. "There's no question you can't win a championship without a great goaltender."

In addition, the River Hawk defense blocked 23 of UNH's 73 shot attempts. Suter had six of those.

Kummins' Critiques: UNH head coach Dick Umile (Melrose, Mass.) was not disappointed with his team's effort despite being shut out for the first time this season. The Wildcats started strong with 14 shots on goal in the first period, but were just unable to solve Hellebuyck as he pitched his sixth shutout of the season.

Notes: With the win, UML repeats as Hockey East champion and will make its sixth NCAA Tournament appearance, once again via the league's automatic bid. ... Hellebuyck became the first player in Hockey East history to win the Tournament Most Valuable Player award in back-to-back years, earning the nod unanimously this season. ... Thanks to a goal and two assists, White registers the first three-point game of his collegiate career. ... The game marked just the second championship between the second and fourth seeds in Hockey East history. No. 2 Boston College defeated No. 4 Maine in 2010 in the only prior instance.

Final Thoughts: Upon his hire, some UMass Lowell supporters had their doubts about Bazin as head coach. It is safe to say that those doubters have been silenced upon winning back-to-back Hockey East crowns. The River Hawk attack was as balanced as any in the Garden this weekend as eight different players scored in a pair of 4-0 wins.

Next: The River Hawks will find out their NCAA Tournament destination during Sunday's noontime Selection Show and are a possible top seed. Regional (round of 16) play opens next Friday in Worcester, Mass.; Bridgeport, Conn.; St. Paul, Minn.; and Cincinnati. With the loss, UNH falls short of its 19th NCAA appearance. 

Twitter: @JoshuaKummins