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PARTY LIKE IT'S 1988: Northeastern Ends Hockey East Championship Drought

Northeastern won its first Hockey East title since 1988 with a 3-2 win over UMass Lowell on Saturday night at TD Garden.

Matt Dewkett

BOSTON -- It had been 28 years.

Many times, Northeastern came so close. But yet so far.

However, Saturday night was Northeastern's night and the night a celebration commenced on Huntington Avenue.

The Northeastern Huskies are Hockey East champions, and their Cinderella second half of the season continues.

Two first-period goals preceded junior Zach Aston-Reese potting his 14th goal of the season 11:03 into the third, lifting the sixth-seeded Huskies to a 3-2 win over UMass Lowell and their first conference title since 1988.

"I'm so thrilled and proud of our team," said NU head coach Jim Madigan, whose team endured a 1-11-2 start this season. "They've battled hard and they've shown a lot of resiliency and resolve over the course of the year. ... It's not like we've done it a lot. This is a memory they'll have forever."

The Huskies' 28-year drought without lifting the Lamoriello Trophy was the longest in Hockey East before the buzzer sounded. The buzzer sounding signaled NU's 14th consecutive win, continuing a program-best stretch.

The first goal of the game is always key, but it was especially so against the nation's second-best defensive team. Northeastern took care of that early as freshman Adam Gaudette found the back of the net at just the 1:12 marker.

The Huskies broke the puck out with numbers and their top line used a great passing sequence to jump ahead first. Gaudette took a great feed from senior Mike McMurtry on the rush at the front of the net and was alone at Lowell senior Kevin Boyle's left post.

Lowell sophomore John Edwardh knotted the score a little more than a minute later, at the 3:25 marker. Edwardh collected a rebound from junior Joe Gambardella's shot at the bottom of the right circle and shot his fourth goal of the season past NU freshman Ryan Ruck.

"I know the team trusts me and I trust them, and we can all help each other out a lot," Ruck said. "Once the team scored another goal to make it 2-1, everyone just gets really pumped up and makes it pretty easy to just ride off that."

As Ruck mentioned, NU pushed back. It never trailed in the contest as sophomore Nolan Stevens provided a quick answer to Edwardh, scoring his 19th goal of the season and the first of his team's two power-play tallies of the night at 6:30.

Junior John Stevens whipped a wrister from the top of the right circle low on net, but his younger brother was right on the doorstep to tip the puck over the shoulder of UML senior Kevin Boyle.

Boyle was a unanimous selection as the All-Tournament Team goaltender and took home Most Valuable Player honors following his 21-save performance in the title game.

The New Jersey native senior stood on his head, played his heart out, but it was just a night not meant to be.

"I think the championship would have probably been a (bigger) accomplishment for sure," said Boyle, who became the first MVP choice from a losing team since Boston University goaltender Sean Fields in 2003. "But it just wasn't our night. Northeastern played a hell of a game, so congratulations to them."

The River Hawks had trailed just four times after the first period all season long before this night, but they fought back once again and dominated the second to the tune of an 11-8 shots on goal advantage.

Senior assistant captain Adam Chapie knotted the score at 2-2 at the 13:34 marker, winning a battle along the boards behind the net, wrapping the puck around, and lifting a tight-range shot off a defender's stick and over NU freshman netminder Ryan Ruck's shoulder.

"I thought we had a good first period and I thought Lowell came at us hard in the second period," Madigan said. "They pushed us and their pace and tempo were much more than ours. We were on our heels and we got out of it 2-2, which was actually a good thing for us."

Aston-Reese's winner was his 14th goal of the season and continued a point streak that now spans eight games. Both Stevens got in on the play as Nolan's stick broke as he sent a shot in towards Boyle, but Aston-Reese picked up the loose puck and slid a backhander inside the right post.

It sent sections and sections of Northeastern students into a frenzy, and onto eight-plus stressful minutes. The Huskies stood tall in the final frame, holding Lowell to just five shots on goal.

All those years of "so close, yet so far" are over now. History is in the past.

"It's always been close, but we always seemed to come up just a little short," NU senior captain Kevin Roy, an All-Tournament Team selection, said. "The players that have been here were tired of that."

It is safe to say they're not tired now.