Back From the Brink
Lowell Gets Off the Deck to Defeat Miami in OT
by Scott McLaughlin/CHN Writer
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. With 1:25 left in regulation and Miami in the midst of a five-minute power play, Massachusetts-Lowell appeared to be on the ropes. The River Hawks had surrendered a three-goal, third-period lead and were getting bombarded with one quality Miami chance after another. It appeared that just getting to overtime would be a victory in itself.
Miami called a timeout to give some of its top power-play guns a break heading into the final minute. That, of course, also gave the River Hawks a chance to regroup and settle down after running around for the previous few minutes. It was time for someone to speak up.
That someone, however, wasn't head coach Norm Bazin or one of his assistants. It wasn't one of the captains. It wasn't a senior or a leading scorer, either. It was sophomore Josh Holmstrom, the third-line right wing who had scored his 12th goal of the season way back in the first period.
"Actually Josh Holmstrom stepped up and addressed the team," UML junior captain Riley Wetmore said when asked about that timeout. "He said, 'Listen guys, we've been playing in tight situations all year.' He just said, 'We need to believe.' Then coach just brought it in and said we just had to believe in each other, and we did. I didn't really have to say anything. It was the other leaders on the team. In this instance, Josh Holmstrom stepped up and said something."
The fact that it was Holmstrom who spoke up during the most important timeout of Lowell's season might seem surprising on the surface, but for the River Hawks, it wasn't odd at all. In fact, that is exactly the kind of atmosphere Bazin has wanted since he arrived on Lowell's campus last April.
"We made it very clear from the onset, especially with me taking over a new team, that I wasn't about to play favorites, because I didn't know anybody," Bazin said. "It didn't matter if you were a freshman or a senior. So it played into that everybody can have a say. ... I'm not worried about who pipes up in the locker room. [The captains] do a nice job of keeping everybody in check, but they also let everybody have a say, and that's terrific."
Of course, the River Hawks have gotten plenty of leadership from the guys wearing letters, too. Wetmore scored twice in Friday's 4-3 victory — the program's first in the NCAA tournament since 1996 — including the game-winner 2:13 into overtime.
Wetmore is the team's first-line center and leading scorer with 39 points, but that's only the beginning of his leadership. He leads all forwards on the team with 26 shot blocks, and he has helped guide the transition to a new coach. Wetmore also willed himself onto the ice for Game 3 against Providence in the Hockey East quarterfinals after suffering a hand injury in Game 2. Bazin said after that game that Wetmore shouldn't have even played, and he said earlier this week that Wetmore's status for this weekend was still in question.
"Riley's been terrific," Bazin said. "He's a solid kid, on and off the ice. He's someone that every team would like to have in terms of leadership, and obviously the on-ice ability."
Wetmore — along with plenty of others — also helped turn Lowell around during its two-week break between games. The River Hawks went 3-3-1 in their last seven regular-season games, then got upset by Providence in the first round of the conference tournament. Just from watching them, you could tell they weren't playing the same way they had for most of the season.
They weren't as relentless on the forecheck, and they weren't as fearless when it came to blocking shots. For at least the first half of Friday's game, they got back to that. They barely let Miami breathe and built up a 3-0 lead by the early second period.
"We just have great leadership," Wetmore said. "We didn't play our best hockey [down the stretch]. We didn't have the tenacity that we had during the beginning of the year and the middle of the year. Providence just came in really hungry, like we're trying to be now. If we stick to our game, we'll be fine. That's what we did tonight."
In the third period, though, the River Hawks started to "sag," as Bazin put it. Holmstrom saw it, too. Thanks to the open environment the team has created, he didn't hesitate to say so.