Lowell, MA – The University of Massachusetts Minutemen and University of Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks have had a string of close games over the last couple of seasons. Sunday afternoon at Tsongas Center Arena was no different. The visiting Minutemen trailed three times before pulling ahead in the final three minutes to move within a point of Hockey East‘s first-place River Hawks. Defenseman Scott Morrow glided through the Lowell zone to beat Owen Savory and give the Minutemen the 4-3 win in front of 3,745 fans and 42 dogs.
The Minutemen have beaten the River Hawks in two straight and six of the last seven. Four of the previous five games have all ended in one-goal differentials. The lone Massachusetts loss was an overtime shootout loss on December 3, 2021.
“That was a huge win for our team in a lot of ways,” said Massachusetts Head Coach Greg Carvel. “We’re on the road against the number one team in the league, so it’s a huge win. I think for the first time this year I felt like I saw the identity of this team and what it needs to be.”
“What I liked tonight was the response of our team. Once again we came out slow,” added Carvel. “They scored a minute and a half into the game. I think we scored the next shift. I wasn’t happy with the first period. I challenged the team before the second period. I really liked our last two periods.”
The # 9 Minutemen came to Lowell riding a two-game losing streak, as they dropped a pair of Hockey East home games on Saturday and Tuesday this past week. Massachusetts has struggled to start the game on time throughout the last few weeks.
The # 14 River Hawks continued to add to the Minutemen’s stretch of poor starts when Andre Lee flung a shot from just in front of the Massachusetts net that beat Matt Murray (28 saves) five-hole to make it 1-0 just 1:28 into the game. Carl Berglund fired off a pass to Lee from out of the right corner to set the 6″-4″ Lee on his way past Minutemen defenseman Ryan Ufko before beating Murray for his 12th goal of the season.
The Minutemen responded at 3:25 when Lucas Mercuri backhanded a shot past Savory (27 saves) to tie the game 1-1. Mercuri’s bid caught a piece of a UMass-Lowell defender before it passed Savory. Ufko and Ty Farmer assisted on Mercuri’s fourth goal.
The River Hawks pulled ahead again when Brehdan Engum fed Lucas Condotta with a stretch pass right up the seem to send the senior forward in alone on Murray. Condotta deked the Minutemen keeper and slid the puck between the post and Murray’s pad to make it 2-1 UMass-Lowell. Massachusetts challenged the goal for Offsides, but the goal stood after the referees, Marty Hughes and Geoffrey Miller, reviewed the play.
The Minutemen thought they tied the game on a Taylor Makar goal at 1:37 of the second period, but it was not a goal upon review by the officials. Makar had poked the puck past Savory before the referees blew the whistle.
Mercuri drew two penalties on River Hawks defenseman Ben Meehan, off a face-off. Meehan was called for Hooking and Slashing, while Mercuri earned an Embellishment penalty. The three penalties on the play gave the Minutemen the five-on-four power-play opportunity at 14:51.
The Minutemen finally tied the game with a Bobby Trivigno power-play goal at 15:42 of the period. Scott Morrow and Ufko assisted Trivigno’s 13th. Trivigno wristed the puck on net from the top of the left circle, and it beat Savory right-side high while the River Hawks netminder had bodies in front of him.
Reed Lebster earned a Goalie Interference penalty at 1:07 of the third period giving the River Hawks a power-play. It was the second straight game that an opposing play hit savory to earn a Goalie Interference penalty.
Another call against the Minutemen at 9:17 put the River Hawks on the man advantage when Garrett Wait was penalized for Roughing. This time UMass-Lowell made the Minutemen pay when Matt Crasa banged home a rebound to give the River Hawks their third lead of the game. Murray made the initial stop on a shot from the blue line by Jon McDonald, but Crasa swatted the rebound past Ufko and Murray for his ninth goal of the season. Crasa, a freshman from South Setauket, N.Y., has scored in back-to-back games for the River Hawks.
Once again, the Minutemen pulled even. This time Makar made sure it counted when he sniped a shot through Savory’s legs to make it 3-3 at 13:39. Aaron Bohlinger and Eric Faith assisted Makar’s first NCAA point. After Lee blocked a Faith slapshot, Bohlinger kept the puck in the UMass-Lowell zone. Makar gathered the loose puck and picked up his first goal with a shot below the left face-off dot.
“It felt pretty good, can’t do it without any of the boys on the team,” said freshman Makar of notching his first NCAA goal in his 11th game as a member of the Minutemen. “Bo (Aaron Bohlinger) kept the puck in, Jerry (Harding) had a really good block so I could go to straight to the net. It felt good to get that off my chest.”
“We inserted Taylor Makar and Jerry Harding into the lineup, we wanted to have as much size as we could against these (UML) guys,” said Carvel. “They were big factors in the game. I said all along Taylor is figuring it out and when he figures it out he’s going to be a really good player. He score one, almost two goals tonight.”
Massachusetts took their first lead with 2:51 remaining when Morrow worked his magic. Morrow gloved a Lowell dump-in attempt at the Minutemen blue line, then skated into the UMass-Lowell zone, toe-dragged on a defender, and then fired off a shot from the left face-off dot. Savory made the stop, but Morrow corralled the rebound and backhanded the eventual game-winner into the net for his tenth goal of the year.
The River Hawks pulled Savory for the extra attacker with 1:12 left. They then caught a break when Massachusetts defenseman Matt Kessel drew a Hooking call at 19:05. UMass-Lowell was unable to generate pressure during the six-on-four as the clock wound down.
“We’re disappointed we couldn’t finish it off. We played a good opponent,” said River Hawks Head Coach Norm Bazin. “They came in here and took it and we couldn’t sustain a level of intensity in the third period that we wanted to in order to be successful.”
“I thought our puck battles weren’t where they need to be. Our net-front presence wasn’t where it needs to be,” added Bazin.
Massachusetts hosts Long Island University on Friday and Saturday, February 4 and 5, in Amherst. The River Hawks will travel to Boston College for a Friday night tilt before hosting Dartmouth for a non-conference game on Saturday in Lowell.