Lowell, Mass. - Norm Bazin often likes to brag about his team's compete level. Friday night at Tsongas Arena UMass-Lowell came out buzzing in the Hockey East opener, defeating New Hampshire, 5-3.
"I thought our compete level was very good. Our compete level has constantly improved. Overall we won our share of [one-on-one battles], but I'd have to look at film. [UNH] is a very good hockey team. I thought we played well at home for the good parts of the game," said the third year UMass-Lowell coach.
Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk gave UNH the lead just 6:06 into the game when he finished off a nice feed from Dalton Speelman on a two-on-one. The junior, known for stepping into the offense from the blue line, made a nifty move before slipping it through Connor Hellebuyck's legs for the score.
"I was able to get a step on their defenseman and Speelman made a great pass. It just kind of snuck in five hole. It was a nice play by Speelman," said van Riemsdyk.
The River Hawks then scored three consecutive goals to go ahead by three goals. Just over two minutes after van Riemsdyk's goal, UML evened the score on the man advantage. Zack Kamrass blasted a slap shot from the point that UNH goalie Casey DeSmith stopped, but the rebound was left in some traffic in front of the crease. Lowell captain Josh Holmstrom found the puck and banged it into the back of the cage.
"It was big. Anytime coming off a goal for or against the next few shifts are important to get the momentum swung one way or the other. Kamrass threw a good shot in there. It was sitting on the back door there and I was able to slide it in," said captain Josh Holmstrom.
A terrific passing sequence from the line of Scott Wilson, Michael Fallon and Adam Chapie gave the River Hawks their first lead of the game at the 11-minute mark of the first period. Michael Fallon cut over the blue line before dishing it to Wilson coming down the left side who quickly zipped it to Chapie who got his stick on it and put it in.
UMass-Lowell extended its lead to two goals 8:15 into the second period when Jake Suter's slap shot from the point beat DeSmith due to a screen in front. The goal came right after a near miss for UML on an odd-man rush.
Kevin Goumas would bring the Wildcats within one when he scored on a fluke goal with 2:38 to play in the second period. He took a weak backhander that somehow wiggled through the five-hole and past Hellebuyck.
With UNH gaining some traction and having momentum from some power play chances, Ryan McGrath scored a pivotal goal 11:52 into the third period. The sophomore took advantage of a UNH turnover at the Wildcats' offensive blue line and went in alone on DeSmith. McGrath faked the shot before backhanding it between the wickets for a 4-2 UML lead.
"Whenever you can get a goal to break the ice like that it helps out. A one-goal lead isn't very safe. It's always nice to get an insurance marker. As you can tell by the final score that was a big, big goal," said Bazin.
Just 23 seconds later, Scott Wilson would give the River Hawks some much needed insurance with his first goal of the season. Nick Sorkin would add a goal for New Hampshire, but it was too little and too late.
"Obviously it was disappointing there. They blew the game open there in the [23 seconds]," said UNH head coach Dick Umile.
New Hampshire went one-for-seven on the man advantage. "I thought our penalty kill was the star of the game tonight as far as the difference between the two teams," said Bazin.
We had our chances and obviously we didn't score on the power play. We had our shots, but Hellebuyck stood tall in there," added Umile.
When asked what has been different for his team after the slow start, Wilson talked about his team's concentration on some of the fundamentals. "We got back to the basics with our D zone and we're really playing a structured game right now," said Wilson. "It's great to get the two points against a good team like UNH. I think we're on a roll right now," he added.
UMass-Lowell moves above .500 for the first time on the season with a record of 4-3-0 while New Hampshire falls to 1-4-1. The two teams will play their final regular season game against each other tomorrow night at the Whittemore Center on the campus of UNH.
"We have to battle back tomorrow. We only play Lowell twice. We'll play them at our arena tomorrow and hopefully we come out on top," said Umile.
Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, NCAA Recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.