Lowell, Mass. — There’s a big difference between stopping pucks in Junior B hockey and trying to keep pucks out of the net against one of the top teams in college hockey.
For over 56 minutes, it looked as if UMass Lowell freshman Tyler Wall was going to make that transition seamlessly and record a shutout in his collegiate debut against one of the top programs in college hockey.
The sixth round pick of the New York Rangers in this past summer’s NHL Draft had his shutout snapped, but he was absolutely spectacular as No. 7 UMass Lowell held on for a 1-1 tie against visiting No. 5 Minnesota Duluth in front of 4,638 Saturday night at the Tsongas Center.
UMD sophomore defenseman Neal Pionk scored on a rebound off an odd man rush with 3:54 to play in regulation. The goal could hardly be blamed on Wall, who made the initial save, but was left hung out to dry by his defensemen who didn’t pick up the trailer.
Connor Wilson had staked the River Hawks to an early 1-0 lead with a power play tally just 3:30 into the game. The sophomore came off the left wing wall and blasted a slap shot up high that handcuffed UMD goaltender Nick Deery. It was the first collegiate goal for Wilson in his 29th game in a Lowell sweater.
Wall, who played for his hometown Leamington Flyers in the obscure GOJHL last winter, made 40 saves, including 32 over the final two periods of regulation.
“It was a good introduction [to college hockey],” said Wall, the reigning Western Conference Rookie of the Year in the GOJHL.
Unlike the two more hyped freshman Hockey East goaltenders, BC’s Joe Woll and BU’s Jake Oettinger, Wall has never experienced college hockey or elite competition before Saturday night.
“The speed of the game is a lot faster along with the traffic in front of the net. Teams do a better job creating traffic in front of the net,” Wall explained.
The six-foot-three Wall is a good skater who tracks pucks well and seems to be in position to make most saves look easy. He did a nice job squaring up to shooters and only had to make one highlight reel stop, snagging an Alex Iafallo wrist shot out of midair in the second period.
“I don’t know if there’s one real save that stood out. I was just trying to keep my team in it, but one of my favorite ones was the glove save in the second period,” said Wall.
“I thought their goaltender played well,” said UMD coach Scott Sandelin, whose own goaltender, Nick Deery, made 24 saves.
UMass Lowell (0-0-2) heads west to take on Colorado College for a pair next weekend while Minnesota Duluth (2-0-2) returns home to host Notre Dame for two games.