LOWELL, Mass.-Celebrating the Class of 2023 in front of 5,394 fans, the UMass Lowell men's hockey team (17-13-3, 11-9-3 Hockey East) closed out its regular season home slate on a high-note with a 3-1 victory over #15/16 Northeastern (16-12-5, 13-7-3 HEA) Friday night at the Tsongas Center. With the win, the River Hawks also secured a first round bye for the 2023 Hockey East Tournament.
Sophomore Gabe Blanchard (East Aurora, N.Y.) exploded offensively with a career-night, putting up a team-best three points thanks to a goal and two assists. Senior Brian Chambers (Weymouth, Mass.) returned to the lineup and added a goal and a helper to his stat line. Freshman Dillan Bentley (Peoria, Ill.) dished out a season-best two assists to end the night with two points. Additionally, senior Carl Berglund (Hammaro, Sweden) and freshman Owen Fowler (Tewksbury, Mass.) finished with one point each. Berglund earned his off the opening tally for the River Hawks in the first period, with Fowler earning credit for the secondary.
The River Hawks' physical play led to a full team defensive effort, with 11 skaters combining for 21 blocks. Sophomore Isac Jonsson (Ängelholm, Sweden) led the way with a season best five against the Huskies. Graduate student Gustavs Davis Grigals (Riga, Latvia) made 17 saves, including an incredible goal-line stop, to improve to a 11-8-2 mark and earn the win.
"I'm certainly pleased with the result. Last few games, I thought we played pretty well and didn't get the result. From that standpoint, it's a nice change of pace," remarked Head Coach Norm Bazin. "I thought guys did some things well. I don't think we started off well, but we got a little bit better as the game went along. I thought our management started getting better as the game wore on."
Northeastern struck early, sliding one through the five hole past an unexpecting Grigals just 2:37 into play. The River Hawks responded with increased pressure in the offensive zone but struggled to gain traction on attack. The Huskies took their fair share of shots on target but UMass Lowell threw bodies in front of the puck to keep them off the board.
The intensity picked up down the stretch in the first period as the River Hawks chased down the equalizer. UMass Lowell's late first period push paid off with 5:02 left in the frame. Blanchard cruised down the boards on the near side with the puck and dropped a quick pass to Berglund lingering in the faceoff circle. Taking the feed, Berglund took a quick spin to avoid his defender and flung the puck through the legs of Devon Levi for the 1-1 tie to close out the first twenty.
UMass Lowell dominated the second offensively with two goals to burst out to a 3-1 lead. Blanchard stepped up first, netting the eventual game-winner at 2:36. Chambers battled for possession as he cruised towards the boards in a race for the puck with Northeastern's Jakov Novak. With reinforcement from a nearby Bentley, Chambers took the chance to smack the puck back into the zone. An unmanned Blanchard quickly swooped in to pick up the puck and rip it towards Levi. Despite a seemingly impossible angle, Blanchard's hard shot slipped through to give the River Hawks their first lead of the night.
The Huskies retaliated with some heat as they fought against the deficit. Junior Brehdan Engum (Burnsville, Minn.) and graduate student Jon McDonald (Livonia, Mich.) were patient but persistent nuisances for Northeastern's forwards, making several key defensive plays to help limit the Huskies to just five shots on goal in the second.
Physical backchecking on a breakaway opportunity for the Huskies unfortunately resulted in a penalty shot opportunity for the visitors. Drawing the call, Northeastern's Matt Choupani stepped up to go one-on-one with Grigals. Choupani pulled Grigals to the right just before dangling the puck back out to reach for the glove-side opening. Grigals never faulted, however, and dove back across the crease to smother the puck and deny the penalty shot opportunity.
Chambers sealed the scoring at 11:25 in the second period. The senior barreled down the ice through the neutral zone and found the open lane to flick the wrister past Levi for the two-goal lead heading into the third.
A quiet third period kept both teams off the board as UMass Lowell continued its relentless defense. Eyeing a comeback attempt, Northeastern pulled Levi in favor of the extra attacker, but came up short as the River Hawks skated away with the 3-1 victory.
UMass Lowell hits the road on Saturday, March 4, for a quick trip down to Matthews Arena to close out the regular season. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m.