March 21, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Hockey East Notebook

by Scott McLaughlin/CHN Reporter

BOSTON — All game long, the Massachusetts-Lowell tried to hold the puck on one side, and then have a winger or defenseman break to the back door for a tap-in goal. But for most of the game, Northeastern junior goalie Brad Thiessen and his defensemen were able to read the play and prevent the RiverHawks from netting the easy goal they were hoping for.

That all changed with 1:16 left in the second period. With the teams skating four aside, sophomore defenseman Ryan Blair took the puck at the left point and made a cross-ice pass to sophomore forward Scott Campbell at the right faceoff circle. Blair then took off toward the left post, where Campbell found him with a crisp pass. This time, Thiessen couldn’t slide across the crease in time, and Blair beat him high to the blocker side.

“I thought we really struggled getting to the cage, getting to the net,” Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald said. “And when we did, we got kind of cramped up. Northeastern did a great job defending the front of the net. On [Blair’s] goal, though, there was a little bit of spacing there.”

MacDonald cited moving the puck around the net as the biggest reason the Northeastern defense got a little tired as the game progressed.

“I thought we did a great job getting the puck down low and wearing out their defensemen,” MacDonald said. “That was a big part of the game.”

Long road from near ruin

On Saturday night, UMass-Lowell will appear in its first Hockey East championship game since 1994. Two years ago, though, the Riverhawks had a lot more on their mind than Hockey East playoffs. The program was in jeopardy of being cut for various reasons. Thankfully for the coaches, players and fans, the new school chancellor, Marty Meehan, fought to keep the program.

“We did face a lot of adversity [two years ago],” MacDonald said. “The players aren’t really privy to some of the behind-the-scenes things that kept this program moving. A lot of it was played out far away from the boards and glass.

“We’re very fortunate that Marty Meehan was coming on board as our new chancellor. He deserves most of the credit for where we are today. When the chancellor of your school makes a significant commitment to the program and to the coaches, you have a really good chance to be successful. Lowell has a tremendous legacy of hockey from Billy Riley’s teams that won [Division II] national championships.

“Our attendance was just under 5,000 this year for Hockey East games, so the momentum is amazing. There were a lot of people taking the time to go out and try to sell season tickets and that type of thing.”

The Riverhawks have proven to any doubters that keeping the hockey program was no mistake. On Saturday night, they’ll have a chance to become the pride of Lowell when they look to win their first Hockey East championship.

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