March 20, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Huskies Snatch Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

Lowell Comes From Behind to Advance to HEA Final, 3-2

by Mike Machnik/CHN Senior Editor

BOSTON — Up 2-0 late in the second period of his team's Hockey East semifinal against Massachusetts-Lowell, Northeastern coach Greg Cronin should have felt pretty good about how things were going.

But he didn't.

"I told the team between each period we were sloppy, uncharacteristically loose with the puck, uncharacteristically fuzzy with our structure," said Cronin after a finish that saw the River Hawks score in the final minute and again three minutes into overtime to advance to the championship game, 3-2.

"Lowell just kept coming, they stuck to their game plan for 60-whatever-five minutes, and they deserved to win."

Scott Campbell's tying goal came with the River Hawks (20-15-2) skating 6-on-4 courtesy of a too many men penalty called on Northeastern (25-11-4) with 1:05 to play.

"Our defenseman, [Louis] Liotti, was skating up to the red line to advance the puck and dump it, and he felt back pressure on him," Cronin said. "As you know, the ice gets sloppy in the third period, particularly late. And he went to pass it to [Chris] Donovan, and the puck bounced up in the air.

"The right defenseman, [J.P.] Maley, had come over, anticipating the dump-in. And the puck flipped and it came right back at us. I don't know why...we all know [David] Strathman jumped on the ice, I feel terrible for him. He knows it happened to him. Anyone who's played hockey knows, you anticipate a change, so he's getting ready to go over the boards and get on the ice, and the puck goes right back at him.

"It just was a bad break. I feel terrible for him. I'm more mad at myself for having a temper tantrum on the bench, I was so upset. It wasn't a very composed way to manage the last minute of the game."

While the late penalty gave the River Hawks the chance they needed, it was the culmination of a game where UML — who outshot NU in every period and 44-27 on the night — seemed to bring a little more gusto than the favorite Huskies did. Even a quick two-goal flurry :24 apart by Kyle Kraemer and Rob Rassey midway through the second didn't seem to jumpstart the Huskies out of their doldrums.

"I don't think we wanted to lay back, but I think that's just kind of the way it happened," said Joe Vitale of the Huskies' play after taking the lead. "We had a couple of good shifts there, but I think UMass[-Lowell] kind of came down and shoved it in our throat."

"I think our hearts were there tonight, it's just our heads weren't there."

In overtime it was more of the same, as UML's Chris Auger would redirect a shot by Ben Holmstrom past Hockey East Player of the Year Brad Thiessen (41 saves) and into the NU net just three minutes in to end the Huskies' hopes of returning to the league championship game for the first time in 21 years.

"I know our team really well, and there was not a lot of snap," Cronin said. "There was the first few shifts, it looked like, the way we played, I thought we dominated the first few shifts. Then we took a penalty and Lowell got some momentum on the power play.

"I don't know why it happened. It's the biggest mystery in sports. That UMass series [won last week by NU in three games] was a very draining series emotionally...I'm not making any excuses or taking anything away from Lowell, they did a hell of a job. They played a real focused game. Clearly the fact that they dominated on faceoffs, I don't think anybody's beaten us on faceoffs all year like they have." [39-25]

"I kept going down to [assistant coach] Albie [O'Connell] saying, 'What's going on here?' We just looked flat. There are a lot of players that are really visible when we're going, certain players you think that are a little lightning in a bottle when you play, and they're usually consistently visible, and they weren't tonight. I don't know what it was."

Now, instead of preparing for an opportunity Saturday night to win their first league title since 1988, Northeastern will wait until Sunday morning to find out who and where they play again, in the NCAA tournament.

The good thing is, they live to fight again.

"I didn't even start thinking about that," said Cronin. "It'll take a day or two to get this out of your system.

"We've got to find a way to re-energize ourselves. We've got to regroup. And it's the first time since, I don't know, 15 years in the NCAA tournament, and wherever we go, I think we'll be recharged and ready to go and excited."

The River Hawks broke NU's perfect 3-0 mark against them this season with the win.

"They're a good hockey team, probably over the last month and a half they've been one of the best teams in the country," Cronin said. "To be quite frank with you, I thought we were lucky to be up 2-1 with a minute to go in the game.

"Lowell played really well. We weren't able to keep up with them. The pace they played at, the way they advanced the puck, and they forechecked us, that's usually what we do really well. They did it well. They did a good job with the 65 minutes.

"That's the end of the story."

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