Frozen Four Capsule: Massachusetts-Lowell
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
Resume: Hockey East Regular-Season and Tournament Champion, 28-10-2, Northeast Regional Champion
Massachusetts-Lowell arrives in Pittsburgh with the best record in the nation since Dec. 8. At that point, UML was 4-7-1 and struggling to find the type of defensive excellence and scoring that led to its resurgence in 2011-12. Several pieces came together at that point, and the River Hawks have improved every week since.
Scoring and defense are both team concepts for UML. This led to runs to the Hockey East regular-season championship, tournament championship and a berth in the Frozen Four. In 10 games in March, the River Hawks allowed 10 goals total, including three shutouts, while scoring 28 of their own.
Riley Wetmore, Senior, Forward
Riley Wetmore has been the unquestioned leader of UMass-Lowell for most the last three seasons. As a senior, he's fourth in scoring with 26 points on 15 goals and 11 assists. Beyond that, he contributes big shifts on the penalty kill and at other pivotal points in the game.
UML's offensive attack features some high-skill players, but its depth is as much as part of the plan as any one player. Wetmore's scoring numbers didn't reach the point many expected in 2012-13. However, he continues to influence games without necessarily adding goals.
Chad Ruhwedel, Junior, Defenseman
Ruhwedel emerged as one of college hockey's best defensemen a season ago. He continued his two-way excellence this year, featuring in game-deciding moments for the River Hawks throughout the season. The clear No. 1 on a dominant UML blue line, Ruhwedel will draw the assignment of shutting down Yale's top line in Thursday's semifinal. Should the River Hawks advance, his task grows even more difficult against either Quinnipiac or St. Cloud State.
On the year, Ruhwedel's seven goals and 16 assists are sixth on the club, first among defensemen. His plus-17 rating is also a team-high. His stewardship has allowed three newcomers to grow into key players on defense for UML.
Connor Hellebuyck, Freshman, Goaltender
Last season's Hockey East First Team goaltender, Doug Carr, began the season as the No. 1 for UML. A combination of inexperience on defense and some tough outings for Carr forced UML coach Norm Bazin to insert Hellebuyck, a talented freshman, into goal. The move paid off for UML. In 23 appearances this season, Hellebuyck is 20-2-0 with a 1.31 goals-against average a .951 save percentage.
The decision kicked off the River Hawks' current run, which carried them into the Frozen Four — just another program first for this UML club. Hellebuyck's 6-foot-4 frame allows him to make positional saves with ease, and his agility and anticipation lead to some fantastic saves in the odd moment when the River Hawks allow a quality scoring chance.
Emergence of Connor Hellebuyck
Bazin maintains that Carr is just as capable as his freshman replacement. However, there's no denying that Hellebuyck taking over the No. 1 job led to UML's surge. Some injury issues in January and February sidelined Hellebuyck for five games. Since he returned on Feb. 15, UML has lost just once.
Hellebuyck and Carr shared the duty from early December until the injury. His returned sparked UML's current run. In his last 15 starts, UML is 14-1-0, and Hellebuyck's numbers are a staggering 1.20 goals-against average and .957 save percentage in that stretch.
Winning Hockey East Regular-Season and Tournament Championships
For Hockey East's first 28 seasons, it was rare to see its lesser programs win championships. Before this season, just four teams (Boston College, Boston University, New Hampshire and Maine) had won the league's regular-season title. Similarly, just six programs had won the league's tournament and only four since Providence won in 1996.
The River Hawks changed all of that this season. A win over Providence in the regular-season finale clinched the first trophy for UML. It followed that up with four dominating defensive performances to win its first Hockey East playoff title. Reaching the Frozen Four is a major accomplishment for UMass-Lowell, and it would've been even without the previous trophies it won. But those titles officially cemented Lowell as a premier program in Hockey East.
2-0 Win over Northeastern on Dec. 8
All of this began with a 2-0 win over Northeastern at the Tsongas Center. Hellebuyck made 25 saves to earn his first collegiate shutout. Freshmen Michael Colantone and Ryan McGrath scored goals in the win. Bazin's roster featured a number of young players to start the year. Despite last season's unlikely run to the NCAA tournament, it took the roster a bit longer than expected to come together this season.
The win over Northeastern seemed to mark the end of Lowell's up-and-down start. Including that win, UML is 24-3-1 in its last 28 games. Many of their wins have been carbon copies of the thorough 2-0 win over Northeastern.
Players to Watch
Riley Wetmore, Senior, Forward (15-11—26); Scott Wilson, Sophomore, Forward (16-21—37); Joseph Pendenza, Junior, Forward (14-23—37); Derek Arnold, Junior, Forward (13-16—29); Josh Holmstrom, Junior, Forward (12-12—24); Chad Ruhwedel, Junior, Defenseman (7-16—23); Christian Folin, Freshman, Defenseman (6-15—21); Connor Hellebuyck, Freshman, Goaltender (20-2-0, 1.31, .953)