April 11, 2013 PRINT Bookmark and Share

A Season of Firsts

Lowell reflects on dream season despite stinging loss

by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH — Massachusetts-Lowell's season of firsts ended on Thursday night.

The River Hawks lost, 3-2, to Yale in overtime of the first national semifinal at the CONSOL Energy Center. The defeat cut UML's dream of a national championship just short.

As it has for countless seniors around the country, the end of the season meant recalling four years for UML captain Riley Wetmore and his classmates. Few four-year players, though, experience the type of frustration and joy Wetmore saw in his four years playing at the Tsongas Center.

Two seasons ago, the River Hawks won just five games. Their coach left after a disappointing tenure. The 2011-12 season, the first under Norm Bazin, appeared to be another year of futility for UML.

Something changed when Bazin came in, though. The River Hawks quickly became one of college hockey's best teams. They were difficult to play against. They were fast. The scored goals and shut down some of the nation's best teams.

A year after winning just five games, the River Hawks finished second in Hockey East and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The dream fell short a season ago. UML failed to win any trophies despite their successful regular season.

In 2012-13, all of that changed. A dramatic win on the final night of the season in Providence clinched a Hocey East Regular-Season title for Lowell. Two weeks later, UML won its first Hockey East Tournament title, defeating Boston University, 1-0. The River Hawks followed that up with dominant performances in Manchester, N.H., to qualify for the Frozen Four.

The dream ended earlier than Wetmore and his teammates would have liked for the second year in a row. Despite a sparkling 24-3-1 run since Dec. 1, the River Hawks struggled mightily in losing to Yale on Thursday night.

"You've got to let it sink in for a little while," UML goaltender Connor Hellebuyck said. "Think about everything that happened and think about things that you can do better and improve on. Once that kicks in, you'll start working on the next season and trying to follow up what we just did. I think that's when it will sink in."

Thinking back to the joy of celebrating league regular-season and playoff championships isn't something a player can do too easily minutes after losing a national semifinal.

"I'm very proud of this group," Bazin said. "But the whole group had an opportunity to accomplish what no other group at Lowell has ever done. This is going to sting for a while."

Years from now, the 2012-13 River Hawks will still be the first UML team win those trophies. The brilliance Bazin has displayed in his two years leading his alma mater promises a similarly fruitful future for the River Hawks.

Thursday night, all that was on the minds of the UML players was the goal Andrew Miller scored that ended their season. The players at fault will struggle with guilt. The players on the bench will remember the pit that formed in their stomach when Miller and his teammates started celebrating.

"For me, it's just disappointing that," Wetmore said before pausing. "Yeah, I just can't put it into words. It's just tough right now."

In a couple days or weeks, they'll remember the milestones, though. They'll remember rushing the ice at TD Garden and celebrating the end of 28 years without a championship for the program. The sting of the loss will go away.

The mark the 2012-13 River Hawks made, though, that's forever.

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