UMass-Lowell Overcomes Frustrating Start to Advance
River Hawks to Play for 1st Hockey East Championship
by Michael King/Staff Writer
BOSTON After executing its coach's game plan and strategy to near perfection in a dominant second period, Massachusetts-Lowell earned little reward for its effort, still behind on the scoreboard by a goal, 1-0.
During the second intermission of their match-up against Providence in the Hockey East semifinals, there were few adjustments for the River Hawks to discuss. Rather, coach Norm Bazin preached commitment to the game plan and continuing to execute at a level of effort which creates consistent scoring chances.
Entering the third period, the River Hawks continued that same approach. This time, however, Lowell earned a goal only 30 seconds into the period. The quick score redefined the complexion of the contest and instantly reduced the frustration for a Lowell team that failed to convert its first 25 shots.
For the next 10 minutes, Lowell continued to create scoring chances before notching the game-winning goal with seven minutes remaining in regulation. A Providence turnover in its offensive zone led to a rush up ice for UML.
Senior captain Riley Wetmore sent a centering pass from the left halfwall to Scott Wilson who was streaking toward the net. The sophomore connected with the puck despite close marking from Providence defenseman John Gilmour and launched a quick shot. Wilson's rapid release prevented Jon Gillies from getting set and making a clean glove save, as the puck slipped over the goalie's left side.
"Obviously that was a big goal and helpful to start the third period with an energy boost," Bazin said. "I asked the players to leave everything on the ice. I know then and there that we would have a good opportunity to win the game."
These goals and an overall strong defensive performance against the Friars yielded a 2-1 victory at the TD Garden. For the third time in program history, the River Hawks will play for the Hockey East championship game. Saturday night, they will face the winner of Boston University and Boston College.
It was evident entering the game that the River Hawks had the defensive discipline and strong play in net to give themselves a chance to win. However, it remained to be seen if UML could get multiple pucks past Providence star goaltender Gillies.
And for most of the second, it didn't appear that the River Hawks would. Lowell largely controlled play in the period, as evidenced by a 15-7 shot advantage. Other teams may have panicked, altered their strategy, veering the formula that led to their success. But the River Hawks, led by two-year captain Wetmore, demonstrated no adverse affects from the frustrating start.
Further, it was these conversations during the second intermission which prevented the team from being overcome with emotion related to the inability to solve Gillies. Wetmore noted that the players' attitude and reaction to the scoreless second period reflected as such.
"Sometimes it can get frustrating when the opposing goalie is making big saves like that, but the key is stay focused and trust the process," Wetmore said. "We know that coach has been here before, and we trust him to offer guidance. The guys in the locker room can tell when it's time to be goofing around or when it's time to be focused. Before the game, everyone is loose — playing soccer or whatever — but then we know that we have a job to do. When the time game, we put the puck in the net when we needed to."
But as he has all season, much of Bazin's influence is derived from his demeanour in the locker room and on the bench. Specifically, the coach's ability to remain calm and resist overacting when his team struggles or fails to score for extended periods translates to his players in a positive impact.
"Coach always reminds us that if we work hard in practice and do all of the little things, then you'll be rewarded in the game," Wetmore said. "He's always very calm when we come back to the bench, if we do something wrong, then he'll let you know. And the same thing if you do something well."
In an almost instant response to these conversations, freshman A.J. White scored his second goal of the season to tie the score. Though Gillies is already arguably the league's best goalie, even as a freshman, he yielded several rebounds on Fridat. To start the third, Lowell finally took advantage as White converted a rebound off a shot from a 3-on-2 odd-man rush.
Now that the River Hawks have knocked off one of the league's best teams and best goalies, Lowell will face another challenge Saturday night, regardless if its form takes BC or BU. Furthermore, they have additional evidence and associated developed confidence that commitment to its process will yield success should goals again be at a premium in the final, with the Hockey East title in the balance.