March 19, 2017 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Gambardella Gets it Done

Senior Leads Lowell to Title

by Christopher Boulay/CHN Writer (@chrismboulay)

BOSTON — The UMass-Lowell players skated from the bench as the clock at TD Garden expired. They threw their sticks and piled behind goaltender Tyler Wall. It was the third victory in the Hockey East final in the past five years for the River Hawks.

Everyone involved with Lowell was in a state of bliss. Even River Hawks coach Norm Bazin smiled as he sat down at the press box—a stark change from his usual stone-faced expression.

Success is a bit of a new thing at Lowell, with all of these trophies coming under Bazin’s tutelage. They went from being a Hockey East also-ran, to one of the premier programs in the East.

This doesn’t happen without the players on the ice, of course. In Bazin’s system at Lowell, there’s typically a center that makes it all come together. Going back to the first Hockey East Tournament win, Bazin had Riley Wetmore. Next, it was Joe Pendenza.

This time around, Lowell’s engine was senior Joe Gambardella.

It’s been an incredible year for Gambardella. He averaged 1.31 points per game this season, with 18 goals and 33 assists. He and teammate C.J. Smith are the first two players to record at least 50 points since Brandon Concannon posted 62 points in 1995-96. They reached it on the same play, a second-period goal that gave the River Hawks a 3-2 lead in Saturday's Hockey East title game.

Lowell’s offensive production this season was fifth-best in college hockey and the best in Hockey East, with 3.69 goals scored per game. The Smith-Gambardella-John Edwardh line proved dominant throughout the year, and it's carried the rest of the offensive production.

“He’s certainly developed over four years,” Bazin said. “He’s a substance player. Aesthetically, he may not look perfect, but, at the end of the night, he produces. He’s always a plus player. He’s a glue guy in the locker room. I can’t say enough about Joseph Gambardella. He comes from great stock, great family.”

While lines that stay together year after year often see a gradual increase in point production, Gambardella’s line exploded from last year’s level. Smith had 39 points last year, and he reached 50 points Saturday night. Edwardh went from 13 points to 37 points. Gambardella’s 51 points was also a stark jump from the 37 points he earned last year.

“We matured a little bit,” Smith said. “We knew toward the end of last year, we started to really click. We learned each other’s games, and we learned to put a lot of trust in each other, and know that if somebody makes a mistake, we’ve got somebody there to back each other up. It’s a real good working tandem of us three to be able to support each other and trust each other.”

It may be a cliche when players are “all-in” in regards to a system, but Bazin’s relies on growth throughout a player’s four years.

The senior leaders on the team are why they are so successful each season. These aren’t kids who are highly regarded draft picks—just two draft picks played on Saturday night. They are talented Division I players who have something to prove. They buy in, and Bazin makes every piece function.

“(Bazin) pays attention to detail more than anybody else,” Gambardella said. “He makes sure we’re doing the little things, not only at the rink, but away from the rink, as well. He built that into the program when he first started. ... Everyone’s gotta believe in the process in order for it to work out.

"It’s been the most amazing four years of my life."

There will be a huge hole to fill when he does leave after this season. He still has more to play, and Bazin proved multiple times that he can groom someone to step up and produce like Gambardella. It’ll be tough. He’s produced 128 points in his career.

“We’re going to miss him,” Bazin said.

Lowell has a share of the regular-season trophy and a tournament championship to its name so far this year. WIth and 11-1 mark to finish Hockey East play, the River Hawks are clearly ready to play for the one trophy that's eluded them under Bazin — a national championship.

This team is equipped to do exactly that. They have all the tools to do so. If they’re going far, it’ll be on Gambardella’s back.

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