Junior forward C.J. Smith tallies his sixth goal of the season on an easy tap-in goal just outside the crease with 1:35 left in the second period. (Marlon Pitter/Connector)
Junior left wing C.J. Smith’s two-goal game elevated the UMass Lowell River Hawks over the University of Vermont Catamounts.
With the 3-1 win, the River Hawks moved onto a 5-2-2 overall record and a 1-0-0 Hockey East record.
“We are very excited to grab two points from a very good hockey team tonight,” said head coach Norm Bazin.
Freshman goaltender Tyler Wall notched his first-career conference win with a 25-save performance. Wall is ranked sixth in the nation’s goaltending leaders.
Smith had seven shots on goal, four more than anyone else on the River Hawks. Two of those shots were crucial even strength goals: the gamewinner and the insurance.
Smith is now tied for sixth in the country in scoring with linemate Joe Gambardella and two other players. He now has 13 points this season, seven goals and six assists in six games.
The River Hawks had to endure twenty minutes of back and forth play that was referred to as “cat and mouse hockey” by University of Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon.
The scoreless first period featured chances that disintegrated at the goal line. Sophomore forward Nick Master had a wraparound chance early in the period that bounced off of the pads of Catamounts goaltender Stefanos Lekkas.
“I thought that we got better as the game went along. We managed the puck a little bit better, and that we maintained forecheck for a change. For the first period, I didn’t think that was the case,” said Coach Bazin.
Jake Kamrass opened the scoring at 8:47 of the second period with a power play goal, the River Hawks’ only one of the night. Less than ten minutes later, Smith took a pass from Gambardella and sniped it into the opposing net.
The River Hawks had to kill seven penalties in the game. At one point in the second period, the River Hawks had to kill a 5-on-3 for 1:08 with two of their best players in the box – Smith and junior defenseman Tyler Mueller.
Despite pressure from Vermont, the River Hawks cleared the puck out of their zone twice in the first twenty seconds of the 5-on-3. UMass Lowell did well with shotblocking and clearing out their zone, and it didn’t hurt to have Smith block a shot right after emerging from the penalty box.
Vermont etched their place on the scoreboard with a goal from senior right wing Mario Puskarich at 12:56 in the third period, but were closed out for the remainder of the game.
32 seconds after Puskarich’s goal, Smith sent home his second goal of the night. Taking a hard shot from the blue line that flew into the goal, Smith raised his hands in the air and calmly looked to the audience and rafters as the Tsongas Center erupted and the lights dimmed.
Despite not allowing another goal, the game was tense until the final buzzer sounded. After taking a timeout with 4:44 left in regulation, Vermont came out roaring and put pressure on Wall. The goaltender was pulled in favor of an extra skater with two minutes left.
But their efforts were in vain: Smith and the River Hawks had done their damage and managed to keep the Catamounts at an arm’s length until the game expired.
The River Hawks will host the Catamounts again on Saturday night at the Tsongas Center. Puck drop is at 7 p.m.