LOWELL -- It was just another ho hum night at the office for the UMass Lowell River Hawks. The two-time defending Hockey East Champions and the only team without a loss in Hockey East league play won again and completely dominated five-on-five play.
UMass Lowell improved to 9-3-3 overall and 6-0-2 in Hockey East with a 6-4 win over the University of Connecticut in front of 3,680 at the Tsongas Center. Norm Bazin's team outshot UConn, 30-14, while the teams were at even strength. UML's aggressiveness and dominance in the possession game certainly impressed UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh.
"Of all the teams we've played I think that's the most complete team we've played," said Cavanaugh. "They put so much pressure on you for 60 minutes that you really have to be on your toes and play exceptionally well."
That's high praise for Lowell as UConn has faced four of the top seven teams in the league including first place Vermont twice, Boston University twice and Boston College once.
At times UMass Lowell showed signs of youth with sloppy play, but overall it did what Bazin teams usually do -- make it tough for their opponents with aggressive play and an intense forecheck.
"That was a well played hockey game. We generated 33 shots. I thought we saw some aggressiveness in the offensive zone and neutral zone so I was very pleased with that," commented UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin.
In a game that saw three power play goals and a shorthanded tally, it was UMass Lowell that jumped on the board first with a man advantage strike.
It took the River Hawks just five seconds to capitalize on an early first period power play. With UConn's Evan Richardson in the sin bin for an interference infraction in the neutral zone, Evan Campbell cleanly won the draw back to Dylan Zink whose wrist shot beat UConn goaltender Rob Nichols for the 1-0 Lowell lead just 5:45 into the game.
UMass Lowell extended its lead to 2-0 midway through the opening stanza when Chris Forney's slap shot found the back of the net for the freshman's first collegiate goal. His one-timer beat Nichols who appeared screened on the play.
The Huskies worked some man advantage magic of their own with 5:07 to play in the first period to cut the deficit in half. Jacob Poe's shot from the point hit some traffic in front before sliding into the net between the outreached skate of Lowell goaltender Kevin Boyle and the far post. Joona Kunnas picked up the lone assist on Poe's first tally of the season.
The first half of the second period was dominated by a lot of neutral zone play, but then the goals came in bunches. There were three goals scored in a span of 2:03, starting with Michael Louria's goal at the 13:51 mark that gave UML a 3-1 lead. The freshman picked up his third of the season thanks to a beautiful feed from Michael Kapla who waited to draw three UConn defenders his way before zipping the cross ice feed.
UConn answered back just 48 seconds later with a power play goal from Joona Kunnas who picked off an errant Lowell clearing attempt and quickly blasted a shot past an unsuspecting Boyle.
UMass Lowell capped off the wild flurry with a goal at the 15:54 mark that gave the River Hawks a 4-2 edge heading into the second intermission. Ryan Collins got his stick on a Ryan McGrath shot to deflect the puck into the UConn net.
Evan Campbell gave the River Hawks added breathing room when he picked off an errant pass in the neutral zone and turned around to score an unassisted shorthanded goal. As he entered the zone on a two-on-one he got Nichols to lean towards the pass before wristing a shot off the goaltender and in to the net.
There was no give up in the Huskies. Trailing 5-2, UConn chipped away to draw within one goal in time to pull the goaltender for an extra attacker situation. Evan Richardon finished off a nice tic-tac-toe passing sequence down low that saw the puck go from Jesse Schwartz to Joona Kunnas before the BC transfer finished it off. A little over five minutes later, at the 16:53 mark, UConn narrowed the Lowell margin to 5-4 when Trevor Gerling notched his fifth of the season.
"[UConn] didn't quit. That team is a good hockey club. That was a difficult game to play," said Bazin, whose team added an empty net goal with 11 seconds left to secure the victory. UMass Lowell closes out its first half with a home date against a struggling University of Maine squad on Saturday.
UConn closed out the first half of its first season in Hockey East at 3-8-4 overall and 2-4-1 in conference. The first semester saw the Huskies pick up victories over Vermont, Boston College and Quinnipiac, all nationally ranked opponents.
"I think it was good for our kids to get a feel for what Hockey East is like on a nightly basis. I thought the way our guys responded the first half hopefully gives us more confidence going into the second half. With the exception of the Penn State game, our second game of the year, we've been in every game we've played. I do think we're better than three wins," said Cavanaugh.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.