Lowell, Mass. — It’s becoming routine. On Sunday, UMass Lowell earned a trip to the Hockey East Semifinals at the TD Garden for the fifth consecutive year.
The River Hawks are the only school to make the Hockey East semifinals in each of the last five seasons, winning the Lamoriello Trophy in 2013 and 2014. No other school has made the Garden more than three times during that same period. Boston College and Boston University both have made three appearances.
“It’s kind of in our culture. We expect to make it there. It showed tonight. We really wanted to make it back there again,” said UMass Lowell junior forward John Edwardh, who had a goal and two assists.
UMass Lowell clinched a spot in Friday night’s semifinal against Notre Dame with a resounding 8-2 win over New Hampshire in the third and decisive game of the Hockey East Quarterfinals. It was 6-1 after just 20 minutes, allowing Norm Bazin’s team to cruise to the finish line.
“We didn’t have to chase the game. It was a good game for us,” said Bazin.
Marcus Vela and Tyler Kelleher scored the two UNH goals. For Kelleher, it was a tough way to go out following a terrific career. The Hobey Baker candidate and NHL free agent prospect finished the season with 24 goals and 39 assists for 63 points.
“He had a fabulous season. He’s a dynamite player. He’s one of the great college forwards right now. He’s one of the greats that I’ve had the opportunity to coach,” said New Hampshire coach Dick Umile, who said he had no comment on whether he will be back for a 28th season.
If there was one reason for Sunday’s lopsided affair, it was the winning team’s ability to control possession, transition up ice and prevent the Wildcats from getting out of their own zone.
“It was in the game plan. We wanted to use our legs,” said Bazin, who noted UNH was playing its sixth game in just over a week.
On the UMass Lowell first goal, a power play strike, the Wildcats had two relatively easy chances to clear the puck out of the zone, but couldn’t do so. That was a microcosm of how the game went below the circles in the UNH end. UML was able to get on pucks and put pressure on the UNH defenders. Lowell’s superior speed was just too much for UNH to handle.
“We just had legs. We played with a lot of tempo. When you get on pucks first, usually you make plays,” Bazin commented.
At the other end of the spectrum, UMass Lowell was able to easily transition from defense to offense. Dylan Zink and Tyler Mueller both made several highlight reel breakout passes. The Lowell defense did an excellent job of carrying the puck up ice and following the puck to maintain possession.
Next Man Up
It’s often been said over the past several years that UMass Lowell is a team that doesn’t rely on superstars. Bazin’s teams have always been about the next man up.
The fourth line listed on the line chart, made up of three freshmen, scored four of the eight goals. Kenny Hausinger scored twice and added a helper while Colin O’Neill lit the lamp twice. The line’s center, Ryan Lohin, picked up an assist, but his pace and his play on draws were instrumental.
“I wouldn’t consider those guys a fourth line. I don’t know if we have a fourth line. It’s reminiscent of some of the better Lowell teams we’ve had in the last six years that we have four second lines. They haven’t been a fourth line all year. The freshman group came to play,” Bazin explained.
This year the first line has emerged as a true top line in Hockey East. C.J. Smith, Joe Gambardella and Edwardh combined for three goals and five assists on Sunday.
“Gambo, Eddy and C.J. have kind of separated themselves as a bonafide first line. If you look at any of the other years we’ve been to the Garden, I don’t know if we’ve had a line that separated themselves like Gambo’s line,” Bazin explained.
While Smith and Gambardella have rightfully earned most of the accolades this season, Edwardh’s impact on the line cannot be forgotten. The Calgary, Alberta native has stepped up and become a very good player in his own right.
“He’s subtly smart. He’s a guy who’s a real hockey player. The play never dies with him. It’s always move forward. If I had one description to give to a hockey player that you enjoy coaching, it’s that the play never dies,” said Bazin.
Edwardh now has 17 goals and 18 assists on the season. He’s been an ideal complimentary player for his two linemates.
“He’s perfect for those two guys. Gambo is certainly a worker. You know him as somebody who wins pucks. C.J. has a reputation of finishing. Eddy has a reputation for both within our locker room. Subtly he’s a very strong hockey player,” said Bazin.
Puck drop between UMass Lowell and Notre Dame is set for 5 p.m. Friday. The winner of the first semifinal will face the winner of the nightcap between Boston College and Boston University in Saturday’s final at 7 p.m. All three games will be televised by NESN and ESPN3.