Men's Hockey: Beatdown in Beantown

Riverhawks blank UNH in Hockey East championship

By Justin Loring
On March 25, 2014

In their first Hockey East Finals appearance in seven years, the UNH Wildcats took on the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks for the conference championship. UNH all but showed up for the game, however, getting dominated from start to finish in a 4-0 defeat before 12,051 spectators at TD Garden in Boston, Mass.

With the loss, the Wildcats season comes to an end with a record of 22-18-1 and an 11-9 record in Hockey East play.

Earning its second consecutive Hockey East title, UMass-Lowell (25-10-4, 11-6-3 Hockey East) was led in net by Connor Hellebuyck, who made 30 saves on the night. Hellebuyck became the first player to record back-to-back shutouts in the Hockey East tournament, as well as the first player to ever win the tournament Most Valuable Player award in consecutive seasons.

"I was very pleased with the way our team played tonight," head coach Dick Umile said. "You may not believe that with the 4-0 loss, but I thought they played well, moved the puck and things just didn't happen for us tonight." 

Lowell's first tally came at the 12:12 mark of the first period on a rebound putback by AJ White. Joseph Pendenza had the puck in the corner and threw it along the red line at Casey DeSmith's feet. DeSmith went down to play the puck, but couldn't control the bounce. White was trailing the play and knocked in the rebound between two UNH defensemen to take a 1-0 lead. 

The Riverhawks struck again with a rebound goal in the first off the stick of Josh HolmstromDeSmith made a highlight-reel save on Pendenza, with a diving effort along the goal line to stop his one-time opportunity. DeSmith got his glove on the puck, but it bounced to the slot and Holmstrom had nothing but net to shoot on. The senior buried it for his sixth goal of the season to put Lowell up by two with 4:32 to play in the period.

UNH started the second period well, but were unable to get anything past Hellebuyck

"Not many teams get scoring opportunities against [Lowell]," Umile said. "I thought we did a pretty good job of that tonight. Maybe we didn't get the second and third shots but I thought we generated enough scoring opportunities to stay in the game.

Lowell was able to strike early in the second off an odd-man opportunity. Terrence Wallin led the rush with Shayne Thompson to his left and Joe Gambardella trailing the play. Eric Knodel and Brett Pesce played Wallin and Thompson well, but Gambardella was left wide open. Thompson fed him with a pass in the slot and Gambardella buried the puck.

The final dagger came with 1:17 left in the second on a Lowell powerplayPendenza won the faceoff to White and Lowell set up its offense. After cycling the puck, Jake Suter found the puck at the point. Suter stepped up just inside the Hockey East logo at the top of the zone and put a shot on net. The puck hit defenseman Dylan Maller in the leg and deflected past Casey DeSmith for the fourth and final tally.

"We got some shots, got some traffic in front of their goalie," Knodel said. "He was good at deflecting [the puck] into corners, not letting too many rebounds out front and eliminating those second-chance opportunities."

DeSmith's night ended with a little more than five minutes left in the third when Umile decided to put senior netminder and alternate captain Jeff Wyer in the game. Wyer recorded five saves and DeSmith finished with 26 of his own. Wyer saw action in seven games this season for the Wildcats and produced a 2-2-1 record. 

The Wildcats won by a score of 3-1 on Friday night over Providence in the Hockey East semifinal. 

The first period saw very little action, with both teams testing the waters with their style of play. UNH went on two power plays in the period, but Providence only allowed four total shots to get on net during the advantage. Providence's defense slowed UNH's breakout, using their size to disrupt the flow of the offense. When UNH forwards tried to work the puck on the outside, Providence pressured along the boards and forced UNH to give the puck up before they found an opening.

UNH's first tally came at the 7:05 mark of the second period on a shorthanded goal by Kevin Goumas. After Knodel forced a turnover in the neutral zone, Goumas carried the puck into the offensive end, wrapping around the net and beating a sprawling Jon Gillies with a backhand shot.

"One thing we talked about before playing [Providence] was try to attack Gillies on the ground, get him [moving] side-to-side" Goumas said. "I thought it would be a good opportunity and I had a lot of open net to work with."

 With the goal, Goumas passed head coach Dick Umile on the all-time career scoring list with 145 points.

Justin Agosta notched the second goal of the game with a slap shot from just inside the blue line. Positioned along the right side, Agosta let off a slap shot to the far post. The shot caromed off defenseman Kevin Hart's skate and fluttered past Gillies.

With less than 10 seconds left in the period, UNH was able to force another turnover in the neutral zone. Goumas led a 2-on-1 rush with Nick Sorkin to his left. Driving the net from the right side, Goumas centered the puck to SorkinSorkin ripped a shot in the slot, but the puck sailed high and caromed off the glass. Goumas gathered the puck behind the net and wrapped around the left post. Gillies couldn't find the puck and it trickled under his pad.

It appeared that the period had ended before the shot crossed the goal line, but the referees went to the monitor and determined that 0.4 seconds remained on the clock at the time of the goal

"That was a pretty big goal, I didn't know what they were reviewing at first," Goumas said. "Matty Willows chipped the puck out and the defense crashed, we caught them in a line change. I tried feeding Nick backdoor and I guess he got hooked a little bit.

"I knew time was running out because we went out there for a short shift, and I just wanted to get that puck as quickly as I could to the net."

Providence was able to trim UNH's lead at the 3:22 mark of the third period. Drew Brown was able to gather the puck behind the net and fed Kevin Rooney in the slot. Rooney was able to get his stick on the puck and deflect it under DeSmith's pad for the goal.

UNH was able to defend in front of its own net and stymied the rest of the Friars' opportunities. Providence pulled its goalie with 2:02 remaining, but couldn't get a good look on net.

After making ten straight NCAA tournament appearances from '02-'11, the Wildcats have now missed the postseason in two of the last three seasons. The team will also be graduating seven seniors in the spring: Knodel, Sorkin, Goumas, Agosta, Wyer, Jeff Silengo and Dalton Speelman.

"Eric and the seniors have been a great group for us with great leadership," Umile said. "The difficult part is that it's a team with great chemistry. We wanted to keep going, not only were they winning and playing hard, but we were enjoying it and having fun doing it. It's tough for the season to end."


Follow Justin Loring on Twitter @JLo_TNH

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