LOWELL, Mass. - In front of an electrified sellout crowd, the No. 3 seeded UMass Lowell men's hockey team (21-9-3, 15-8-1 Hockey East) punched its ticket to TD Garden with a 7-2 rout of No. 6 seeded Merrimack (19-15-1, 13-11-0 HEA) Saturday night in the quarterfinal round of the 2022 Hockey East Playoffs.
"I'm proud of our guys. A lot of these guys, believe it or not, haven't had a chance to play too much playoff hockey. I thought (Carl) Berglund had an outstanding game. He's never played in the playoffs, so this was his first taste," remarked Head Coach Norm Bazin. "Giving those guys a chance to play at the Garden is a big deal for our program. We want to keep that moving forward."
Junior Carl Berglund (Hammaro, Sweden) led the way in the playoff rout, netting a season-high two goals in the win. Joining Berglund, graduate student Connor Sodergren (Tewksbury, Mass.), senior Lucas Condotta (Georgetown, Ontario), junior Ryan Brushett (Montreal, Quebec), sophomore Ben Meehan (Walpole, Mass.) and freshman Owen Cole (Dunnville, Ontario) knocked in goals of their own to help lift the River Hawks to victory.
Freshman Isac Jonsson (Angelholm, Sweden) had a career night against the Warriors, dishing out a career and season-high three assists. In addition to his pair of assists, junior Andre Lee (Karlstad, Sweden) played a key role on defense with a team-high five blocked shots.
Senior Owen Savory (Cambridge, Ontario) logged one of his best performances in a River Hawk uniform in the key postseason clash. The veteran netminder stopped a season-high 39 saves while allowing just two goals to help lead the River Hawks to victory.
"I thought Savory was good. I thought Berglund's line was good. We had six different goal scorers. It's always nice when you can get contributions from all the way down your lineup," said Bazin.
UMass Lowell came out firing in the single-elimination matchup. Freshman Matt Crasa (South Setauket, N.Y.) shot a laser towards the net but was denied by the post. Sodergren was quick to make up for the close chance, stuffing one past Merrimack's Hugo Ollas to get the River Hawks out to 1-0 lead just 1:04 into the action.
The River Hawks pushed their way back into the zone minutes later as they fought against the Merrimack blueline. Gaining possession, Lee maneuvered his way behind the net but was halted by a Warrior defenseman. Flinging the puck loose, Jonsson gained control and fanned a pass out to Berglund in the slot. The junior forward wasted no time one-timing the shot over the right shoulder of Ollas to take a 2-0 lead.
Temporarily halting the momentum, Merrimack's Logan Drevitch tucked one in to slice the lead down to 2-1 heading into the first break. The home squad dominated the second period, scoring three unanswered goals to burst out to a 5-1 lead. UMass Lowell's first chance came just 5:33 minutes into the second frame when a Merrimack penalty sent the River Hawks on their first power play of the night.
Winning the faceoff, Condotta pushed the puck straight back to senior Jon McDonald (Livonia, Mich.). The defenseman knocked a pass towards Meehan, who took a few strides before ripping the shot past Ollas for the 3-1 margin.
Just three minutes later, Berglund struck once again. Controlling the puck at the top of the circle, Jonsson sent a centering shot towards the net. Bouncing off Lee, Berglund capitalized on the unsettled Merrimack defense and tucked in his second of the night to give the River Hawks the 4-1 advantage.
Setting up in a similar formation, Jonsson found himself once against at the top of the faceoff circle. The freshman defenseman fired a pass into traffic, giving Brushett the go-ahead to stuff the puck behind Ollas to send the River Hawks into the final break up 5-1.
Merrimack chipped away at the UMass Lowell lead with a power play goal off the stick of Alex Jefferies, but the River Hawks were not finished. With just under 10 minutes left in the playoff tilt, UMass Lowell pushed its way into the zone. Passing the puck under the blueline, sophomore Brehdan Engum (Burnsville, Minn.) ripped a shot into the middle of the net. A well-placed stick from Cole popped the shot into the back of the net.
A final empty-net goal from Condotta with less than two minutes left called the 7-2 decision to punch UMass Lowell's ticket to TD Garden for the Hockey East Semifinals.
"We're excited to be playing playoff hockey, excited to be moving on and seeing the Garden. Giving these kids an opportunity to play at the Garden is a big deal. For some, it'll be one of their career highlights. It's exciting to be playing for a Hockey East Championship, so we want to keep things going."
The River Hawks make their way back to the Garden for the first time since 2017 on Friday, March 18, when they take on No. 2 seed Massachusetts. Game time is still to be determined.