Pendenza, Lowell's Mr. Everything
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
WORCESTER, Mass. The play was a microcosm what Massachusetts-Lowell senior Joseph Pendenza can do – pretty much everything.
After a stretch where the River Hawks were on their heels, killing a Ryan McGrath charging penalty, Pendenza blocked a Matt Leitner shot with his shin near the blue line and beat him to the loose puck in open ice, racing in alone on Minnesota State goalie Cole Huggins and slipping the puck between his legs to give Lowell a 1-0 lead.
Pendenza is perhaps the biggest reason – aside from goaltender Connor Hellebuyck – why Lowell is back in familiar territory, just one win away from back-to-back trips to the Frozen Four.
He leads the team the scoring, but with just 30 points in 40 games. That is still eight points shy of his career high set last season in 41 games. Yet Pendenza’s stock has soared his senior year.
“He’s an excellent hockey player,” Lowell head coach Norm Bazin said. “He’s someone who will be missed dearly. He fills so many roles. He’s our top two-way center and a guy who is important, and great, on the power play as well as filling in on the penalty kill.”
The first-period goal was Pendenza’s second shorthanded goal of the season, his first coming in January against Providence.
“In practice we always talk about having a long stick on the penalty kill.,” he said. “We want to have a long stick on that defenseman on the penalty kill and really pressure him. We don’t wan to give him any time and space. I had a long stick and he shot it into my body and I just raced him to the puck and was able to go in on the breakaway.”
It was the 25th time the River Hawks scored the game’s first goal this season – they’re now 20-2-3 when they do.
“It’s definitely a key going in, to get that first goal,” Pendenza said. “You want to get off on the right foot, even if you don’t score. It’s always good to get that first goal though, it takes a weight off your shoulders. Any time you can get it, it’s huge.”
Added Huggins, “It was a good goal,” He had a lot of speed with him and went five-hole.”
With the puck he’s very good. Without the puck, he’s great; arguably the best defensive player in Hockey East.
The penalty kill is a role he’s evolved into the past three seasons under Bazin, whose defensive tactics are second to none – Lowell is far and away allowing the fewest goals in the nation, a full 0.20 better than second-best Quinnipiac.
The defensive core is fantastic, but it’s Pendenza who has epitomizes the Norm Bazin style perhaps more than any other player on the roster, selflessly throwing his body in front of shots from the point and winning nearly every puck battle he’s involved in.
“He’s all purpose,” Bazin said. “He will have many opportunities to play after college because of the roles he can play. He’s developed nicely on over his career and he’s not only increasing his ability to defend, but he’s become a stellar defensive player. I really think that he’s, if not the best, one of the top two or three best defensive players in our league. I know he wasn’t picked for Best Defensive Forward, but he was certainly my pick.”