Lowell Performs Late Magic Again
Reaches First Hockey East Final Since 2004
by Jake Seiner/CHN Reporter
BOSTON The laundry list of excuses Mass.-Lowell could have laid claim to Friday night were endless.
The young RiverHawks squad, which boasts only three seniors, was playing its first semifinal playoff game since 2002 – they had no experience. It was the team’s first-ever trip to TD Banknorth Garden, and it was met by a four-section-wide mob of raucous Northeastern supporters – it should have been intimidated. The squad provided NU, and Hockey East Player of the Year, goaltender Brad Thiessen, a two-goal advantage on a potentially soul-crushing pair of goals scored just 25 seconds apart – it should have been deflated.
Instead, the resilient RiverHawks, battled back to force the game into overtime on a Scott Campbell goal with just 20 seconds left in regulation. With an overtime winner from junior Chris Auger, UML earned a spot in Saturday’s Hockey East championship game — the program’s first visit to the finals since 1994 — with a 3-2 victory.
“I really thought we responded after [Northeastern] went up 2-0,” said Lowell Blaise McDonald, who will face one-time mentor Jack Parker in the finals. “In the past, we had lost our structure and our game when that happened. I thought we really maintained the way we wanted to play.”
The late tally really shouldn’t surprise those familiar with UML’s season. Five times in 2008-09, the Hawks have scored in the waning seconds of a game with their goalie pulled. Twice against Vermont in the Hockey East quarterfinals, UML overcame two-goal deficits to snatch victory from defeat’s jaws, including a 4-3 overtime victory earned with just 2 seconds left in the extra frame on a goal by sophomore Maury Edwards.
Auger, who was clobbered by elated teammates after knocking home the game winner, said the team’s poise under pressure is mostly the result of its personal conviction.
“Really, we’ve been playing with a supreme confidence,” Auger said. “We’ve been working very hard, and it showed up last weekend at Vermont. ... We just stuck to our system and that’s what created confidence.”
McDonald said after the game that he was thrilled with the Hawks calm under pressure, crediting the team’s faith in itself to its work ethic and commitment to structure.
“Confidence is a level of certainty, by definition,” McDonald said. “You get a level of certainty through preparation and experience. We feel that we’ve prepared as good as we possibly can, and you have the opportunity to exercise that belief and preparation in games.”
The game’s turning point came at 18:44 of the second period, when Campbell found a cutting Ryan Blair with a centering pass. Blair buried the puck into the back of the goal – an easy task considering he was staring half a cage’s worth of netting right in the face – for his first tally of the season and put UML on the comeback trail.
“That was like Godzilla got of our back,” McDonald said of Blair’s goal. “It was a beautiful goal. Blairsey is not usually a goal scorer, so we’re happy about that.”
Excuses are an easy thing to turn to, especially when a team is young and hasn’t been on the big stage before. Of course, as McDonald pointed out, excuses aren’t part of Lowell’s game.
“I know that as a player and a coach, when your team’s confident, it’s amazing,” McDonald said. “When a player’s not confident, it’s kind of a crutch. We’re in the business to eliminate excuses. Confidence is part of the deal.”