BOSTON, Mass. – For the first time since 2009, the UMass Lowell River Hawks have moved onto the Hockey East Championship Game. The River Hawks took the first semifinal game on Friday night, over the Providence College Friars, 2-1.
Kevin Rooney tallied his first collegiate goal and the game’s first goal in the first period, giving the Friars a 1-0 lead heading into the second period. UMass Lowell would tie the game up in the third, on an A.J. White goal. Scott Wilson gave the River Hawks the lead on a Riley Wetmore pass. Wilson took the bouncing puck and fired a wrist shout between the defender’s leg. The 2-1 lead was enough for the River Hawks to take the victory and advance to the Hockey East Championship.
The freshman goaltending took the spotlight of the first semifinal game. Providence College goaltender, Jon Gillies stopped 31-of-33 shots. The game-winning-goal he surrendered to Wilson, was the difference in the game and what sent the River Hawks to the finals. “I tracked [the puck] across, I saw it, I was more just kind of surprised and I didn’t have my feet fully set” said Gillies on the Wilson goal, “I reacted as quick as I could, I just couldn’t come up with it.” After a great season, Gillies finishes his freshman campaign with a loss.
On the other side, Hellebuyck had an outstanding night, stopping 34-of-35 shots fired at him and earning the victory. The Friars did everything they could get something past the UMass Lowell goaltender. In the third period, Providence College attempt 30 shots on the River Hawks. Although the Friars tried, they were unable to get anything past the Hockey East Goaltender of the Year. His defense helped along the way, blocking 19 shots, including three by Chad Ruhwedel.
The two goaltenders were selected to the Hockey East All-Rookie team and were both nominated for Goaltender of the Year, an honor that Gillies won. The Additionally, Gillies was nominated for Player of the Year, an award that went to Johnny Gaudreau of Boston College. The Friars net-minder was in between the pipes for every game, while he was in the United States. Gillies was the backup goaltender on the Gold Medal winning USA team during the World Juniors, he missed three Providence games. “He’s probably a 30-goal scorer for us, meaning that he has probably taken away a goal a game, from our opponent and that’s as good as a 30-goal scorer for us” said Nate Leaman. “That’s what type of impact he’s had on the team and program.”
Hellebuyck took over in net mid-season, after Doug Carr struggle for the River Hawks. This season, Hellebuyck has gone 17-2-0, including tonight’s victory. Although he only played in 20 games this season, he was one of the best, if not the best goaltender in Hockey East this season. His goaltending pushed the River Hawks to a second-half run, that sees them in the Hockey East Finals on Saturday night.
The River Hawks will face off against Boston University on Saturday night in the Hockey East Championship Game at the TD Garden in Boston, Mass. Puck drops at 7:00 p.m. ET on NESN and NBC Sports Network.
Justin Soderberg is a Hockey East writer for InsideHockey.com. Follow him on Twitter, ‘Like’ him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google. In addition, Justin covers the UMass-Lowell River Hawks at viewfrom123.com.