BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — If nothing else, you have to call Massachusetts-Lowell hockey exciting.
A 4-2 loss to Union on Saturday may have ended the River Hawks’ season, but they certainly treated the fans at the East Regional to a roller coaster ride of emotions.
In its opening game, Lowell built a 3-0 lead in just over 22 minutes against consensus regional favorite Miami. The River Hawks band was rocking. The fans were chanting. All was well.
Elation quickly turned to desperation. Miami scored three unanswered goals to tie the game late in the third. With 3:35 left in regulation, and Lowell stumbling against the ropes, freshman Jake Suter was whistled for a major and game misconduct for checking from behind.
If not for the overtime heroics of junior captain Riley Wetmore, it could have been one of the biggest collapses in recent tournament history.
Less than 24 hours later in the regional final against Union, the roles were completely reversed. Lowell had trouble getting anything going early against a stifling Union defense and trailed 3-1 heading into the third period.
To their credit, the River Hawks remained confident.
“We felt that we were never going to stop playing, even after the second period,” Lowell coach Norm Bazin said. “All year long we had been in those situations and had been able to overcome them.”
It seems that this Lowell team found a way to play its best hockey when the stakes were the highest.
“We knew going into the third that it was do or die,” said Wetmore.
“The game came in waves,” said sophomore goaltender Doug Carr. “We brought it back to them, especially later in the game. We played better and better.”
Then fortune struck with a funny bounce. Union forward Jeremy Welsh controlled a loose puck behind his own net. It was unclear what he was trying to do with the puck, but he ended up shoveling it forward through his own crease to Lowell’s Matt Ferreira, who buried the gift-wrapped goal to make it 3-2 late in the third.
“I don’t really remember what happened,” Welsh said. “Coach will have to show me on Monday.”
“I don’t know if he was trying to make it interesting here or what,” Union coach Rick Bennett joked. “But we talk about the stickhandling wizardry sometimes that he tries.”
“I didn’t realize what happened,” Ferreira said. “The puck squirted in front of me and I had the whole net. It was just a fortunate play for us.”
The River Hawks regained the momentum and continued to pour it on in search of the game-tying goal. And empty-net goal later, though, they came up short. Still, their tenacity and determination made the final minutes an exciting end to the roller coaster.