March 29, 2014

UMass-Lowell 2, Minnesota State 1: River Hawks hang on

By Joshua Kummins

Joe Pendenza (Wilmington, Mass.) celebrates his first-period goal in Saturday night's 2-1 UMass-Lowell win over Minnesota State in the Northeast Regional semifinals at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass. (Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

Final: UMass Lowell 2, Minnesota State 1

Recap: Senior assistant captain Joe Pendenza (Wilmington, Mass.) opened the scoring 12:54 into the first period and the River Hawk defense made it stand up, advancing to the Northeast Regional title game for a second straight year with Saturday night's victory at the DCU Center in Worcester, Mass.

Pendenza broke in shorthanded and beat Minnesota State freshman goaltender Cole Huggins five-hole for his 14th goal of the season and the 49th of his career.

Both goaltenders put on a clinic in the second period, keeping it a one-goal game. The Mavericks had the majority of the offensive play, but UML sophomore Connor Hellebuyck was equal to the task and made saves on all 16 shots he saw.

The third was much of the same with the goaltenders stealing the show. The River Hawks hit multiple posts in the final period, including one from senior Derek Arnold (Foxborough, Mass.) in the low slot in the waning two minutes. 

Off a faceoff play and a blocked shot, junior assistant captain Zack Kamrass iced the victory on an empty-netter with 40 seconds remaining to put UML up 2-0.

The Mavericks cracked the scoreboard with 10 seconds remaining in the third as rookie Zach Stepan pounded in a rebound to make it a 2-1 game. Minnesota State senior captain Johnny McInnis (Boston) took the initial shot, getting credit for the primary assist.

As head coach Norm Bazin put it, the River Hawks bent but never broke and will live to play at least another game.

Records: UMass Lowell 26-10-4, Minnesota State 26-14-1

Key Play of the Game: Hellebuyck was both good and lucky in the middle period, keeping UML in the lead 1-0. Midway through the frame, the Mavericks hit a pair of posts, including one on a rebound from Latvian-born sophomore and Penguins prospect Teddy Blueger that skidded low past the post.

Although the score changed late, that wild sequence had a major impact on the final score. "We were calm, we were cool and we knew what to do," Hellebuyck said.

Kummins’ Commendations: Just as he did last weekend in the Hockey East Tournament at TD Garden, Hellebuyck (35 saves) was masterful in goal. MSU freshman Cole Huggins (33 saves) certainly matched him save-for-save this time though, putting on one heck of a show for the DCU Center crowd.

Kummins’ Critiques: There wasn't much, but the late goal with ten seconds remaining broke Hellebuyck's long shutout streak (201:45), despite his excellent night. The first-ever back-to-back Hockey East Tournament Most Valuable Player did not allow a goal last weekend as the River Hawks beat Notre Dame and New Hampshire to win the league title once again.

Notes: UML continues its amazing track record when taking a lead after one period. It is now 19-0-3 in that scenario. ... McInnis is a Lawrence Academy graduate and the first Massachusetts native player in Maverick history. The captain was credited with an assist and three shots on goal. ... The game marked the eighth all-time between the two programs, which share very similar histories. Both programs started as Division 2 powers and have worked their way up the ladder to become Division 1 conference champions in the last two years. UML holds a 5-3-0 advantage in the series, which includes a meeting in the Division 2 national title game in 1978.

Final Thoughts: The DCU Center crowd was treated to a fantastic contest with the River Hawks holding on for victory, setting up a clash of Hockey East foes with another trip to the Frozen Four on the line. UML is fortunate its late missed opportunities did not come back to haunt them, and it will need to cash in against Boston College tomorrow.

Next: UMass Lowell is now a win away from its second consecutive Frozen Four appearance and will meet BC in Sunday's NCAA Northeast Region title game at 5 p.m.

Twitter: @JoshuaKummins