(Courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics)
Andrew J. Sciascia
UMass Lowell fans present at the Tsongas Center on Friday night were treated to an intense 6-3, back-and-forth scoring battle Friday on a night which in all likelihood should have seen the 17-10-2 River Hawks men’s ice hockey team tuning up on a 7-21-2 Merrimack College Warriors.
“Certainly excited about getting the result we’re looking for. I thought we played well in certain periods of the game, but we certainly dug ourselves a hole and it became a new hockey game. But the guys dug deep, and it was a good hockey game for us,” said UMass Lowell head coach Norm Bazin.
After dropping two games to the Providence College Friars during a home-and-home series in which they did not find the back of the net just one week prior, the River Hawks came out Friday night with a vengeance.
Despite issues in possession and transition early, it took UMass Lowell just under six minutes to make their first appearance on the score sheet.
The early power play goal, coming by way of a tip from sophomore forward Charlie Levesque on a point shot from freshman defenseman Chase Blackmun, was all it took to ignite the River Hawk offense. In the nine minutes that followed, the River Hawks would find the back of the net twice more with a rebound goal coming from freshman forward Lucas Condotta and another great point shot netted by Blackmun.
The Warriors, deep in the grips of a six-game winless streak, were not so easily dismissed – especially with a characteristically lackadaisical start to the second period about to come from the River Hawks.
The opening three minutes of play in the second period would see Merrimack on an offensive tear.
Catching UMass Lowell flatfooted on an early faceoff, junior forward Sami Tavernier would score a power play goal just 13 seconds into the period. Senior forward and alternate captain Derek Petti – who claimed a helper on the Tavernier goal – would go on to score for himself just 79 seconds later.
And were this not enough, junior forward Patrick Kramer would score on the odd-man rush assisted beautifully by forwards Jordan Seyfert and Tyler Drevitch – a freshman and a junior respectively.
The goals, Bazin would go on to say, were almost entirely a result of poor second period energy and a few tough faceoffs, however.
“The first goal goes bar-down seconds into a penalty kill – that’s our lack of intensity off of a faceoff… The second was another great shot… And the third one, the guy picked right out of the air,” said Bazin, “Tyler [Wall] played well though, and I don’t fault him for any of those goals.”
In fact, despite the fact that junior goaltender Tyler Wall faced just 15 total shots throughout the game, Merrimack’s first-year head coach Scott Borek suggested that Wall just might have been the difference maker on Friday.
“The hardest thing for a goalie is when pucks go in like they did in that second period, and for him to come back and play. He made a couple big saves after that and it kind of ended the game,” said Borek, “Credit to him for bouncing back after those goals. He really helped his team secure the [win].”
Following Friday’s game, Wall maintains a 2.09 Goals Against Average, an impressive .921 Save Percentage and has won 10 of his 18 starts.
Luckily for Wall, Friday night turned out to be a tale of three periods and his fellow River Hawks managed to weather the early second period storm and come away victorious at a point in the season where they are counting on wins – being the 14th ranked team nationally and currently tied with Providence for 2nd place in the Hockey East regular season standings.
As the second period began to wind down, freshman forward Reid Stefanson, who had already tallied an assist earlier in the evening, managed to score another – this time assisted by Blackmun and senior forward Connor Wilson – to take UMass Lowell into intermission with a 4-3 lead.
With that, the River Hawks were set to dominate the third period – and dominate they did.
Just minutes into the period, junior forward and captain Ryan Lohin made the scoresheet assisted by Stefanson and Levesque. Finally, with 11 minutes remaining in regulation, the River Hawks secured enough insurance to come away confident as senior forward Nick Master scored with assists from senior forward Ryan Dmowski and senior defenseman Mattias Goransson.
“Ever since Christmas those guys have come back and played like upperclassmen… Even when they don’t have an impact on the scoresheet, they always have an impact on the game. I hope to see them keep improving their game,” said Lohin, who emphasized the excellence of the River Hawk freshman not just Friday night – where they combined for more than 6 points – but since the beginning of the new year.
The River Hawks will look to once again best the Warriors tomorrow night, Saturday, February 23, at Lawler Rink in North Andover, Mass. Puck drop is 7:15 p.m.