Sophomore goaltender Tyler Wall stopped 28 out of 31 shots on net on Saturday night. (Matt Dwyer/Connector)
The third period was the best one for the UMass Lowell men’s hockey team. Rebounding from a slow first period and a more heated second one, they came in roaring for the final twenty minutes. Fighting a 1-0 deficit, the River Hawks fought hard in their offensive zone, drilling in chance after chance. UMass Lowell had 14 shot attempts in the third period, and held Providence to only eight.
All they needed to do was get just one past Providence College’s talented junior goaltender Hayden Hawkey. Maybe then, after chipping away, the River Hawks could ride that momentum to a tie – or more preferably, a much-needed win. UMass Lowell came into the final game of the Providence series licking its wounds from a three-game losing streak, all of these losses coming from road play. Perhaps a change to more familiar scenery would be the thing to jumpstart the faltering River Hawks.
For a second, it seemed as though a win was in view for the River Hawks. Senior defenseman Chris Forney was the man to drive past Hawkey, at 17:17 in the third period. His shot ripped past Hawkey and the Tsongas Center erupted back into life, when seconds before they were captivated into tense attention. As the lights dimmed and the goal horn blew, momentum was in the River Hawks’ favor, with a deliriously happy crowd bolstering their every move.
It was not to last. Providence forward Erik Foley ripped a goal past sophomore goaltender Tyler Wall’s shoulder 42 seconds later, just as the Tsongas’ PA announcer wrapped up announcing the Forney goal. From there, the game fell out of UMass Lowell’s hands as Providence scored an empty net goal with 51 seconds left to play and handed the River Hawks their fourth consecutive loss.
“Unfortunately, we keep giving away momentum. It takes a long time to get it back… we gave it away too quickly,” said UMass Lowell head coach Norm Bazin.
Wall did well in net, working his way back to what could be a starting position after shakiness earlier this season. The sophomore made 28 saves, and although he was saved himself by the post on a few occasions, he radiated that sense of calm confidence which he made himself known for last year.
“He had a tough start, and that’s tough on anybody. But to put statistics aside, since Christmas he’s been a very, very good goalie. He’s coming back into form and I thought both goalies were excellent tonight,” said Bazin.
Wall’s counterpart, Hawkey, made 26 saves and stood on his head in the third period when the River Hawks raised their offensive intensity. Providence got their win partly off of the spectacular work done by Hawkey.
“We found a way [to win],” said Providence head coach Nate Leaman. “It was a big shift after a [Lowell] goal, Foley doing what Foley does of finishing a great play there.”
The tense second and third periods paid off for what Bazin called a “playoffs atmosphere,” with lots of back-and-forth play with very few stoppages in play. Both teams were down a man three times for the whole game, and neither could find a way to capitalize, though not for lack of trying.
On a power play coming during Lowell’s second period upswing, freshman forward Cole Paskus led a powerful offensive charge that led to three close chances, but the only goal UMass Lowell scored on Saturday night was Forney’s.
“I thought we could score another one,” said Bazin.
Bazin was quick to praise the efforts of the River Hawks in the second and third periods as they fought back hard against the Friars. “In defense of [the team], they’re pushing for the game winner. It stings, for them. They’ve been through this lull and they want to snap out of it. That dressing room was full of character.”
Despite the result of Saturday night’s game, the team did look as though they had a spark to them for forty minutes. They skated hard, did the most of what they could with offensive chances and kept up very well with Providence. However, the final two minutes of the game were not on their side.
“It was a game of inches all night long. Both teams played well defensively, both goalies stood tall,” said Bazin.
The River Hawks will wrap up the last weekend of regular season play with a series against Merrimack College. UMass Lowell touches down in North Andover on Friday, Feb. 23 for a 7 p.m. contest against the Warriors. They will return home for Senior Night festivities on Saturday, Feb. 24. Puck drops at the Tsongas Center at 7 p.m. again, though the team encourages fans to arrive early to celebrate the efforts of the senior class.