LOWELL, Mass. — When a team is victimized by an inability to score goals, sometimes it’s the addition of a quick-moving scorer that helps, while other times a little luck can work just as well. In the case of the UMass-Lowell River Hawks Friday, it was a little bit of both.
Coming off a struggling year offensively, the River Hawks opened their 2000-2001 campaign with a two-goal effort by rookie center Laurent Meunier and some help from the opposition en route to a 6-1 victory at Tsongas Arena.
The help came in the form of what soccer enthusiasts would call an “own goal,” early in the second period. With the game tied at one, UConn captain Mike Anderson lost control of the puck in front of his own net, and Huskies goaltender John Chain (39 saves), not on alert at the time, allowed the puck to trickle between his legs to give Lowell its first lead of the night.
“We were doing some things nicely [in the first period],” said Marshall, “but when we scored the goal in our own net, we didn’t respond well enough. We sort of packed it in over the next five minutes and next thing you know it’s 4-1.”
Though the own goal was a turning point, its not quite true to say that UConn held its ground throughout the first period. Despite a tie score, the Lowell offense dominated the Huskies throughout the game, outshooting UConn, 45-10.
“I was pleased with our effort and with our special teams,” said UMass-Lowell head coach Tim Whitehead, referring to a power play that was 2-for-5 on the game. “But we were convinced going into the game that we weren’t going to let up, even if we fell behind.
“I was actually kind of glad [UConn] scored first because we knew we wouldn’t let up until we had the upper hand.”
Meunier — who arrived at Lowell from Echirolles, France, to study engineering — and the quick start he gave to his collegiate career were music to the ears of Whitehead.
“It was good for him to get that goal,” said Whitehead of Meunier’s tally near the end of the first period. “He’s a good all-around player. He’s good on faceoffs, he’s got some good moves and he has skill.”
The Frenchman was a little more modest in describing his game.
“It was important for me to play a good game for the team and for my line,” said Meunier. Though it appeared that he had picked a spot perfectly under the crossbar for his first goal, an honest Meunier admitted he wasn’t exactly that fortunate.
“I just kind of shot the puck and it went in,” said Meunier, who noted that the smaller ice size and the increased intensity made Friday’s game, and the college game in general, a bit different from his days in France.
In net for the River Hawks to start the game was junior Jimi St. John. Thought of as the preseason number-one goaltender for the ‘Hawks, St. John saw just seven shots before being relieved after two periods by rookie Chris Davidson (three saves).
“You certainly would like to see the goaltenders see a few more shots,” said Whitehead. “But part of our game plan was to protect the front of our net and I think we did a good job.”
In a first period that saw the River Hawks dominate the Huskies, outshooting them 23-4, UConn still struck first. Off their first offensive-zone faceoff of the period, the Huskies capitalized at 15:07.
With Evan Schwarz winning the draw for UConn, defenseman Mike Boylan wristed a shot-pass from the left point. Junior Anders Johnson, positioned alone in the high slot, one-timed the pass on net, beating St. John between the legs for the 1-0 lead.
The River Hawks, probably sensing more of the same offensive frustration that victimized them last year, continued their woes. With Lowell skating 5-on-3 late in the first, Chain continued to turn away shot after shot — until the final seconds of the period, when Meunier struck for his first tally.
Still with the two-man advantage, Meunier took a feed from Josh Reed at the left faceoff dot and blasted a shot over the left shoulder of Chain, just underneath the crossbar, to even the game at one.
Early in the second was the aforementioned turning point, when Anderson’s auto-goal gave Lowell the 2-1 lead. The goal was credited to Brad Rooney, the closest UML player to Anderson on the play. And sadly for UConn, that was the beginning of the end.
At 5:04, again on the power play, Lowell’s Meunier notched his second of the night. This time, the rookie slipped through traffic in front of the net and beat Chain inside the post to his left to boost Lowell’s lead to 3-1.
It took just 32 seconds for Lowell to extend that lead, thanks to some perfect passing in transition by ‘Hawks captain Rooney. Moving into the offensive zone with a 2-on-1 break, Rooney feathered a perfect pass to Geoff Schomogyi near the left post that the sophomore winger deflected on goal. Chain appeared to make the save, but the puck trickled past him and barely cleared the goal line.
Before the end of the second Lowell would strike one more time. This time it was Kidney taking a home-run pass from Ron Hainsey at the blue line before making two nifty moves on the UConn defender. His low wrist shot beat Chain cleanly to give the Hawks a 5-1 lead through two.
Known better for blue-collar, hard-working goals, the River Hawks surprised the small Tsongas Arena crowd of 1,467 with more tic-tac-toe passing early in the third. At 6:31, Ed McGrane finessed a picture-perfect pass to Yorick Treille, who finished off with a tip over Chain to complete the Hawks’ scoring and account for the 6-1 final.
Lowell will now rest for a week before hosting Rensselaer next Friday evening. UConn will return home Saturday night for an exhibition game against Concordia College. Next weekend, the Huskies return to the Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts when they play a two-game set against Hockey East foe Merrimack College Friday and Saturday.