Lowell Doesn't Need Luck, River Hawks Just Dominate
BOSTON, Mass. Call it the luck of the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. Call it whatever you want, Jack Jenkins’ goal seven minutes into Friday’s Hockey East semifinal could have sank Massachusetts-Lowell.
From his own defensive zone, Jenkins flipped the puck over the neutral zone. It was an attempt to alleviate some of the heavy pressure the River Hawks were applying in the game’s opening minutes.
The puck took a bounce, and then somehow found room to sneak past Lowell freshman goaltender Tyler Wall. The freshman goaltender stayed in his butterfly for a few seconds, glancing down at the ice wondering what had just happened?
Instead of sinking the River Hawks though, the goal only seemed to serve as motivation. A mere 25 seconds later, Kenny Hausinger fed Colin O’Neil in front and the River Hawks had tied the score. Two minutes after that, Ryan Lohin scored on a rebound to give the River Hawks a lead they would never relinquish.
“The shift after the first goal is always important to see how the team responds,” said senior forward Joe Gambardella. “I thought we did a really good job of handling that situation. I thought we did a really good job responding and coming out and getting it back right away. We kept our foot on the gas pedal for the rest of the game.”
That two-minute span was all Lowell would need, but it was a complete effort for the River Hawks, rolling to a 5-1 win over the Irish and earning a spot in the Hockey East Championship game for the fifth time in six seasons. Lowell will look to secure its third title under Norm Bazin Saturday night.
“I was very pleased with the way the guys responded to the fluky first goal,” said Lowell head coach Norm Bazin. “I thought we kept the traffic up for most of the game and we were very fortunate to get ahead. There was some good work away from the puck. The guys really supported each other in the third period. I was very proud of the way we managed to game.”
Lowell had out-attempted Notre Dame 25-7 in the first period and outshot the Irish 13-3. In the first and third periods combined, Lowell outshot Notre Dame 24-6. It’s the type of bookend periods coaches dream about. Sandwiched in the middle was a period where shots were 17-14 River Hawks, but Lowell had scored twice and kept the Irish off the board.
The River Hawks have had Notre Dame’s number ever since the Irish joined Hockey East in 2013. Jeff Jackson’s team has a record of 2-9-2 against the River Hawks. With this being Notre Dame’s last season in Hockey East before next season’s move to the Big Ten, the Irish will have only reached the conference semifinals twice and both times they were ousted by Lowell, by a combined score of 9-1.
What’s the secret to success for the River Hawks? Well, the secret is that there’s really no secret. Lowell does to Notre Dame what Lowell does to almost every other team. They smother you, they pressure you and they force you into making mistakes that will ultimately lead to your demise.
Coaches often talk about how “we were our own worst enemy” when they go up against the River Hawks. Jackson shared similar thoughts postgame on Friday. But at this point, it’s not simply every Lowell opponent having an “off” night when they go up against the River Hawks. It’s the River Hawks doing what they do best, taking away anything and everything that makes the game fun for their opponents.
You can call it a boring style if you want. Lowell calls it winning, and the River Hawks have done more of that under Bazin than anyone else in Hockey East over the same time period. For that, there are no apologies.
“They certainly create a lot of pressure to make bad decisions,” Jackson said. “We were our own worst enemy tonight. We made a lot of turnovers in key areas of the ice and in our coverage in our defensive zone. Those two things stand out to me and are uncharacteristic of us over the last two months.”
Lowell makes teams do uncharacteristic things. It’s what they do best.
The thing they do second best? It’s winning Hockey East titles and the River Hawks have yet another chance to do that Saturday night, looking to add what has been a very elusive third trophy.
“It’s an exciting time of year to be playing hockey,” Bazin said. “It shows stability, and it shows a consistency within the program and a culture of accountability. The guys were itching to come back this year. This year was probably the most brutal in terms of regular season, so it was very difficult to get here. We are thrilled we’re here, but we have been on both sides of this. We have lost two championships and we have won two. We would like to be on the side of 2013 and 2014.”