Boston, Mass. -- For the third straight year UMass Lowell will be playing for a Hockey East championship. Nine different players tallied a point as the River Hawks dispatched Vermont, 4-1, in the first Hockey East semifinal at the TD Garden on Friday evening.
"We're very excited to be back in the championship game. Vermont was an excellent opponent. They gave us all we could handle," said UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin.
"I thought Norm's team executed their game plan better than we did ours," said UVM coach Kevin Sneddon. "It's certainly an impressive run to be returning to the championship game."
Emphasizing the importance of the system and the next-man-up motto at Lowell, just seven players dressed in Friday's game were also dressed for the program's first Hockey East championship in 2013.
"It's contributions from a lot of different guys. You can keep rotating lines and not have to worry about match-ups. You don't always get contributions from all four lines, but it is nice when it does happen," explained Bazin.
"It's kudos to the guys who came before us. Guys went through a lot for our program and for our culture. It was a stepping stone for us. We have great coaching and leadership," said senior Terrence Wallin.
The two-time defending champion fell behind 1-0 when Vermont freshman Kevin Irwin tipped a centering from Jonathan Turk past UMass Lowell goaltender Kevin Boyle. The goal, coming at 11:42 of the first period, came as the Catamounts were entering the zone in transition.
The next shift turned the tide in favor of the River Hawks. Jarrid Privitera took an offensive zone hooking penalty sending UMass Lowell to the power play. Brendan Bradley took a hooking infraction nine seconds later to put Lowell on a five-on-three.
The Lowell power play went to work and defenseman Michael Kapla made UVM pay for its trips to the sin bin. Kapla received a pass from defensive partner Dylan Zink, took two strides to the middle and let go a wrister that beat Vermont goaltender Brody Hoffman cleanly.
Freshman Michael Louria picked a good time to return to the goal scoring column. The freshman found the back of the net for the first time since Dec. 6 with 3:50 to play in the second period. After receiving a pass from Michael Fallon, Louria broke into the zone down the right side and let go a hard wrist shot that hit Hoffman's shoulder before deflecting into the net.
"He's been playing pretty well the last couple games. When you get contributions from freshmen, it's obviously a big deal," said Bazin.
Hard work on the forecheck earned Lowell insurance 8:46 into the third period. Michael Colantone made a nice pass from behind the goal line out to Terrence Wallin who quickly one-timed it past Hoffman for a 3-1 lead.
Joe Gambardella added an empty net goal to give Lowell a three-goal cushion with 1:24 to go in the game.
Boyle made 30 saves to improve to 18-8-6 on the season, his first in Lowell after transferring from rival UMass Amherst.
"He played very, very well. He's been getting better as the season goes along. He's brought it to another level in the playoffs. We're looking forward to him playing more hockey.
Hoffman made 32 saves in the losing effort for the Catamounts. Despite allowing a soft goal on the game-winner, Hoffman's heroics in the last two games of the quarterfinals against BC made it possible for UVM to make it to the TD Garden.
"The second goal hurt a little bit. It's not one he'd normally give up. He kept us in the game when Lowell was mounting a lot of sustained pressure on us in the offensive zone. He made a lot of key saves. Bottom line, he's the reason we're here," said Sneddon.
UMass Lowell will go for its third straight Hockey East Tournament championship on Saturday night against BU. It is a rematch of the 2013 championship game, won by Lowell, 1-0. The River Hawks will need to win Saturday to prolong its season as the only way into the national tournament is by capturing the conference's automatic bid.
"We try to make every team we have the best it can possible be. We've yet to find out how good this team can possibly be," said Bazin. "It's do or die."
"It's pretty special to be here for a third time. Obviously not a lot of people get to do it once. I've had the opportunity to do it three times. Hopefully we can finish the job [Saturday]," added Wallin.