LOWELL, Mass. — The UMass-Lowell men’s hockey team made like Nook Laloosh on Friday night and announced its presence with authority in a 3-2 win over No. 3 Boston College.
The win vaults the No. 18 River Hawks into sole possession of fourth place in Hockey East. The program has won 10 games before the break after winning just five a year ago, and its seven Hockey East wins are nearly double its four-win total from a year ago.
“The kids made BC work for their space,” UML coach Norm Bazin said. “Our goal was to take advantage of the crowd. I was very pleased with the crowd support tonight . . . because of that, I think we were able to come out strong.”
For the Eagles, the loss is the fifth in nine games after an 8-1 start to the season.
“Lowell played well,” York said. “They certainly are a much improved team. A lot of it’s based on how well [Doug] Carr’s playing in goal. They’re a tough team to play against.”
Carr turned away 23 BC shots in the effort for a .920 save percentage, right in line with his season average. The netminder has been among the biggest reasons for Lowell’s ascendance to back to relevancy.
“I think Doug’s gotten a little bit better,” Bazin said. “I think his real strength is he has pretty good poise. I think the guys are playing pretty hard in front of him . . . However, he’s been a nice surprise in that he’s exuding a lot of poise lately.”
The contest was the last for BC before the winter hiatus, news the Eagles took to heart a bit too soon. BC was caught flat-footed a few times in the first, most notably on Lowell’s first goal.
BC was on a five-minute power play stemming from Terrence Wallin’s head-hunting hit on Bill Arnold, but lost two minutes of the man-up when Paul Carey took a hooking call about a minute in.
Fifteen seconds into the four-on-four, David Vallorani zipped by Chris Kreider with the puck near the BC blue line, then proceeded to blitz through defenders Tommy Cross and Patch Alber before beating Brian Billett for the 1-0 advantage.
“I just got a nice pass from Chad [Ruhwedel] in the middle of the ice,” Vallorani said. “I saw the open ice between the two defensemen, so I decided to take it. I almost got clipped but managed to get through. The goalie was deep in his net, so I went high.”
Lowell stretched the lead to 2-0 later in the frame on the power play. Vallorani set up Matt Ferreira near the right halfwall with a nifty shimmy near the point, and Ferreira drove the BC net before dishing cross-slot to Derek Arnold. A BC defender tipped the pass en route to Arnold, but the puck still arrived at its desired destination in plenty of time to let Arnold control and rip the puck into a near-empty cage.
BC leveled the ice some in the second, with the improved play stemming mostly from improved defensive-zone coverage. Billett’s services were hardly needed in the second. Of the seven saves the netminder did make, just one came from in close.
On the other side of the ice, BC found looks from all over the rink. The Eagles took four shots from the grade-A area, and had a number of looks from the high slot, including a Steve Whitney rip that Carr corralled with a flashy glove save.
The effort did finally earn BC one notch on the scoreboard. Whitney earned the primary assist, driving along the goal line on the right side before centering for Barry Almeida in the slot. Almeida ricocheted his shot off Carr and in.
BC’s possession advantage in the second was stark, but the score remained 2-1 through two, a credit in large part to UML’s shot blockers. The River Hawks blocked 10 shots in the second including a number of blocks on the penalty kill.
Flat feet –– paired with a sloppy change –– burned BC again midway through the third. Joseph Pendenza was the benefactor this time, sprung by a pass from Stephen Buco that put him behind the BC defense at the Eagle blue line. Pendenza drove the cage and bested Billett stickside.
BC pulled Billett with under two minutes to play, and capitalized for one goal with 46.5 seconds left. Cross’s point look was tipped by Kreider in front in Bill Arnold’s direction. Arnold swung at the waist-high knuckler and connected, knocking the puck by Carr to cut the deficit to 3-2.
The Eagles put a couple more chances on Carr in the final seconds, but those ducks weren’t meant to hunt.
Instead, Lowell game from the home contest the victors before 5,988 River Hawk faithful. One game remains on UML’s first-half schedule, but regardless of its result Saturday against Northeastern, the mid-point marks a time for brief celebration in Lowell.
“We’re playing really well,” Vallorani said. “Coach Bazin’s done a really good job getting us up for games. We’re sticking to our system and communicating well with each other. We have some confidence now that we can beat any team in the league.”