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Hockey East Tournament: UMass Lowell stymies Notre Dame to earn berth in championship game

UML blue liners Christian Folin and Zack Kamrass each had a goal and an assist.

UMass Lowell sophomore goaltender Connor Hellebuyck
UMass Lowell sophomore goaltender Connor Hellebuyck

BOSTON -- There's something about the TD Garden that brings out the best in Connor Hellebuyck. The sophomore goaltender stopped all 35 shots he faced as his UMass Lowell River Hawks shut out Notre Dame, 4-0, in the Hockey East semifinals to advance to Saturday's championship game against the University of New Hampshire.

As usual, Hellebuyck, the Winnipeg Jets draft pick, was very humble and deflected attention towards his defense.

"A bunch of guys in front of me paid the price and doing the right thing. There were a lot of blocked shots and a lot of sticks [in lanes] tonight," said the Commerce, Mich. native.

The shutout was the 11th of Hellebuyck's career, a school record at UMass Lowell, an impressive feat considering some of the elite goaltenders that have come through the school, including Dwayne Rolosson.

"It's a great feeling. It's definitely a milestone in my life. I'm very thankful for the opportunity that Lowell has given me. I don't think I'd be setting any records if it wasn't for the team that I have in front of me," said Hellebuyck.

Hellebuyck, the MVP of the 2013 Hockey East Tournament, has allowed just one goal in three career games at the TD Garden. He suggested it was just a coincidence and that it had more to do with the desire to play well in big games.

"I'd say it's definitely just the playoff hockey. Everyone plays better in playoff hockey. You're only at the Garden for playoff hockey with the pressure on," said Hellebuyck.

After a scoreless first period UMass Lowell was opportunistic, burying two goals in each of the next two periods from four different players.

"I thought we capitalized on our chances. It's always important to do that. In playoffs you don't get too many opportunities so when you can capitalize on two power plays and start with a lead, that helps," said UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin.

"We were able to convert on two power plays which is very important. We were able to get two five-on-five goals, which is also very important. We were able to combat them pretty well and capitalize on the opportunities that we had," said UMass Lowell senior Derek Arnold.

Christian Folin's fluke goal 10:13 into the second period gave the River Hawks a 1-0 lead. The coveted sophomore blue liner took what appeared to be a harmless wrist shot from the point, but it re-directed off Notre Dame defenseman Kevin Lind and into the back of the net. A.J. White and Joseph Pendenza assisted on the tally.

Just over three minutes later Arnold added to the lead when he took a lead pass from Zack Kamrass and burst into the offensive zone. He faked a pass on the two-on-one before roofing a wrist shot into the top corner of the goal, beating Notre Dame goaltender Steven Summerhays high glove side.

"Notre Dame had a line rush. We were backchecking. Zack Kamrass made a great play standing up with a great stick, a poke check. I was coming back and picked up that puck from Zack. We just went off on the races on a two-on-one. I believe it was [Notre Dame defenseman Stephen] Johns who took away the pass and I saw a little daylight so I went with it," explained Arnold.

UMass Lowell put the game further out of reach 3:25 into the third period on the power play. Christian Folin slid the puck over to Scott Wilson who fired the puck on net. With Josh Holmstrom screening Summerhays, the Anchorage, Ak. native couldn't coral the puck. The rebound bounced down and freshman Evan Campbell pounced on it and banged the puck into the net for a 3-0 UMass Lowell lead.

Zack Kamrass added a power play goal at the 13:21 mark to cap the scoring. Notre Dame's clearing attempt was held in by the junior blue liner from Atlanta, Ga. Kamrass controlled the puck and swooped in down the left side, faking a slap shot before beating Summerhays with a wrist shot.

Kamrass and Folin each had a goal and an assist from the blue line, a point not lost on Bazin. "Our D core has been doing a great job getting shots through. That's an upgrade from last season. Whenever we get eight to 12 shots from the D core in a given game, usually we have success. They did a great job getting the puck through and were rewarded," explained the third year bench boss.

UMass Lowell will look to defend its Hockey East Tournament title on Saturday at 7 p.m. as the River Hawks take on New Hampshire, a 3-1 winner over Providence. The River Hawks won their first ever Lamoriello Trophy in 2013. The game will be broadcast throughout the New England region on NESN and nationwide on NBC Sports Network.

Even with the loss, Notre Dame is still a lock to make the NCAA Tournament and will most likely face St. Cloud State in the West Regional in St. Paul, Minn.

Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.