LOWELL, Mass. -- As UMass Lowell entered its 50th hockey season Friday night at Tsongas Center, it stood in an eerily similar position as Minnesota Duluth.
Both teams lost standout goaltenders in Kevin Boyle and Kasimir Kaskisuo, respectively, but brought back a large majority of their talent in the form of nine of their top 12 scorers on the front end.
River Hawks head coach Norm Bazin called the clash of two top-ten ranked teams one with "lots of momentum shifts," so perhaps a 4-4 final score ― after the visiting Bulldogs scored three unanswered goals to finish the contest, including two in the third period ― was fitting.
"Overall, I’m sure it was an entertaining hockey game for the fans," Bazin said. "There were lots of turnovers and lots of momentum shifts. At the end of the day, we wanted to finish with two points, but that didn’t quite work out. We’ll take our one and get ready for tomorrow."
The River Hawks took a one-goal lead out of the first period despite an 8-7 shots on goal disadvantage. Senior C.J. Smith moved around the defense and nearly gave Lowell the lead less than two minutes in, but Duluth rookie Hunter Miska challenged the play and kept the game scoreless for the interim.
The initial scoring came from a usual suspect for Lowell just 4:29 into the contest as senior defenseman Dylan Zink took a pass from partner Michael Kapla and rocketed a shot from the left point into the top corner of Miska’s net.
That is where the score stayed for nearly 20 minutes, but things would change in a big way in the second.
Miska came up with a great save at one end of the rink to deny Lowell junior John Edwardh of a goal, but Duluth defenseman Neal Pionk leveled the score 3:54 into the second period as he jumped into the play and chipped a loose puck home.
"They’re a very good defensive team, but it’s sometimes how the games go ― you’re a little more relaxed and have nothing to lose," UMD head coach Scott Sandelin said. "You just play and talk about getting pucks to the net."
Lowell responded fast though as senior Joe Gambardella potted consecutive goals in less than a five-minute span, first bouncing the go-ahead goal past Miska off a feed from freshman defenseman Mattias Goransson at 4:59.
At 9:25, Smith set up Gambardella with a nifty pass through the middle of the ice, and the assistant captain finished the play into an open side of the net. It secured just Gambardella’s second two-goal game in a River Hawks uniform and a three-point night.
Goransson got into the goal column for the first time in his collegiate career, scoring Lowell’s second of the game on the power play at 14:08. Off a feed from junior Tyler Mueller, Goransson fired the puck through Miska’s legs.
As Lowell dominated much of the game’s first half, the visitors took control in the back half and scored three consecutive goals to send the game to overtime.
It was just that type of game, as neither side seemed to take full control.
"I think the momentum went our way a little bit in the second period because we started getting pucks deep," Bazin said. "It’s the first game of the year, so discombobulated doesn’t start with talking about the nuances of a first game. I thought we didn’t manage the puck very well, and we’ll have to concentrate on that for tomorrow."
Duluth cut the score to 4-2 with less than two minutes to play in the middle frame as junior assistant captain Karson Kuhlman pounced on his own rebound at the front of Christoffer Hernberg’s net for his first goal of the season.
Thereafter, Lowell had a couple great chances to tie the game as sophomore Ryan Dmowski whacked at the puck in the slot, but Nick Deery ― who relieved Miska after allowing Lowell’s fourth goal ― made two nice saves through traffic.
It was senior defenseman Brett Kotyk who brought the visitors within a goal just 63 seconds into the final frame, as he took a shot from the right side and beat Hernberg high after receiving a pass from Pionk up high.
The game saw 19 total power plays with each side scoring on three opportunities, but the Bulldogs got the equalizer and completed the climb at even strength at the 16:30 marker as senior Kyle Osterberg cleaned up a rebound at the front of goal.
"I think composure on the bench is very important, but it’s hard to have composure when you think some of the goals aren’t going your way. That’s part of hockey," Bazin said of the penalty-filled contest. "It’s one of those games, when you’re killing that many penalties, it kind of slipped away on us."
It actually looked as if the River Hawks had the game won about midway through overtime as Smith cut to the front of the net and put the puck home, but it was deemed he interfered with Deery and the goal was called back.
"A tight hockey game, but I give our guys a lot of credit for battling back," Sandelin said. "It’s not an easy team to do that against, but we stayed with it and had a real good third period. Obviously, we got a break on the potential game-winning goal, so maybe it was fitting it ended in a tie for us."