November 10, 2013

Resurgent River Hawks take step backward

By Joshua Kummins

Senior Derek Arnold (right) tallied for the River Hawks, but goaltender Connor Hellebuyck allowed four goals on 23 shots on Saturday against Northeastern. (Photo: Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

LOWELL -- After winning the Hockey East title and making a historic trip to the Frozen Four last season, the UMass-Lowell River Hawks were poised for a strong start in 2013 with a large majority of the team returning.

Things started rather slowly for the inhabitants of Massachusetts' historic Mill City, however, as they pulled out just one victory in the first five games.

The River Hawks entered Saturday night's contest with Northeastern on a roll with wins in four straight games, including a weekend sweep of UNH to open league play last weekend.

The pesky visitors from Huntington Avenue had plans to halt the home team's momentum, however, as they came away with a gutsy 4-2 win over the 11th-ranked River Hawks for their first conference win of the season.

"You know you have to be patient (against Lowell)," Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan said. "You have to play detailed and thorough hockey because that is the way their team is. I just liked the way our guys stuck to the game plan."

The visiting Hounds did get off to a slow start in the opening stanza, surrendering the first goal of the contest at the 6:54 mark of the first period.

Stellar sophomore blueliner Christian Folin's initial shot from the center point clanked off the right bar, careening out to the left side of the low slot for classmate Adam Chapie for his fourth goal of the season.

Northeastern quickly recovered with a goal off the stick of second-year Kevin Roy at 13:50. After taking a pass from newcomer Mike Szmatula, the sophomore from Quebec stopped in the right circle and whipped a sniper past UMass Lowell's Connor Hellebuyck on the power play to knot the score.

Szmatula propelled the Huskies in front just over two minutes later as he finished off a 2-on-1 with sophomore Torin Snydeman (Groton, Mass.).

The Michigander Szmatula continues to be an impressive gun for the Huskies, leading the nation in scoring with four goals and 11 assists.

"We showed some poise and composure out there - a lot more than we did last Saturday. ... They played together as a team. We certainly got some really good individual performances (including that of Szmatula) but, I thought as a team, we grew tonight."

As expected, the River Hawks never gave in and squared the score at 2-2 with nine minutes remaining in the second period. Senior Derek Arnold (Foxboro, Mass.) found the back of the net from just off the goal line, taking a pass from fellow local native and classmate Joseph Pendenza (Wilmington, Mass.).

Quickly, the Huskies stayed the course and tied the game once again as freshman Dalen Hedges made a great play to follow up Colton Saucerman's initial shot from just inside the blue line with a backhander over Hellebuyck at 12:24.

It seemed that some of the early struggles returned to the ice for the River Hawks in the contest and head coach Norm Bazin noted that his team "did not seem to seize any of the momentum at different times," leading to the end negative result.

Both teams matched each other stride-for-stride and shot-for-shot in the third, but could not find the scoreboard until Snydeman slid a loose puck into an empty cage with 37 seconds to play, sealing the win for the Huskies.

A few minutes earlier, it looked like Folin had his second goal of the game off a wicked shot from the point, but the Huskies caught a lucky break with the score being waved off for sure after a short video review.

With a two-man disadvantage thanks to a late penalty and a pulled goaltender by the River Hawks, the Huskies stayed in control of the play and earned the victory for the first time in league play since Feb. 19 at UMass. Madigan was happy with the team's ability to stick to the plan and seal the deal.

"The game see-sawed back and forth,” NU’s coach said. “I told our guys this is what Hockey East is about. We're going to be in these types of games for the rest of the year, so it was good to get on the plus side of this one."

The Huskies will return to action next weekend for two with UNH, beginning Friday at Matthews Arena.

On the flip side, the road is a bit different for the River Hawks as they continue a busy week-long stretch with a Tuesday trip to Princeton and games at Penn State on Thursday and Friday nights.

"It's really good for the chemistry of the team to be on a six-day road trip and have four games in that span," UML sophomore forward Scott Wilson said. "It's going to be like a pro-style schedule."

Twitter: @JoshuaKummins