LOWELL, Mass. — It took more than five seasons, 169 games, and a new arena, but Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder finally got a win in Lowell.
The Huskies coach, now in his fifth season at Northeastern, had not won a game at Lowell since 1996, while he was the head coach of UMass-Lowell. Crowder won his last home game that season, at the Tully Forum, the River Hawks’ old home, beating, ironically enough, Northeastern in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs.
“I guess that’s why I left — because if it took me five years to win here, I’d have been fired anyway,” joked Crowder, who was winless in seven attempts at Lowell since joining the Huskies.
Friday night, though, that all changed as junior Chris Lynch notched a hat trick of the rare variety — a shorthanded, power-play, and empty-net goal — to pace the Huskies to a 5-2 win over the River Hawks.
“As far as our team goes, it was a big character win for us,” Crowder said. “We bent, tonight, but we didn’t break.”
Bend the Huskies did, as they let an early 3-0 lead nearly slip away, surrendering two quick goals in the second period to the River Hawks to give the Huskies one of those uncomfortable, deja vu feelings. Northeastern let slip two two-goal leads last weekend against Notre Dame.
Commenting on Lynch’s play, Crowder noted that it is what he will have to expect from his club to see success this year.
“When you have an older team, you look for guys to step up and have big games,” said Crowder, who for the last two seasons has had more underclassmen than upperclassmen in his lineup night after night. “Tonight, Lynch stepped up and that made the difference.”
Crowder told media after the game that all week he has preached that Friday’ s game at Lowell was the only game of the weekend. The Huskies will actually play a second game, hosting top-ranked Wisconsin on Saturday night, but Crowder did not want his players to even think about that game.
“I didn’t even tell the guys we were playing Wisconsin tomorrow night until just a few minutes ago,” Crowder said laughing. “We know the importance of these league games, and tonight was the most important game of the weekend for us.”
Important, too, it was for UMass-Lowell and head coach Tim Whitehead. The River Hawks entered the game riding a modest two-game winning streak, but that quickly came to a halt thanks to a slow start in the opening period.
“I thought the first shift for each line was pretty good tonight,” said Whitehead, talking about his team’s play before Northeastern’s first goal — a fluke goal that deflected off a Lowell defender. “But goals like that are going to happen and you’ve got to bounce back.”
But the River Hawks were unable to bounce back and found themselves trailing, 3-0, before they even had mustered a shot on Northeastern netminder Jason Braun (19 saves).
Northeastern’s fluke goal came at 3:29 of the opening period, when Cam McCormick (24 saves) could not make up his mind whether to poke check the puck away from an oncoming Ryan Dudgeon, or simply remain upright. He did neither, and as the puck trickled between his legs, McCormick swatted it off of a Lowell defenseman’s shin pad and into the empty net to give the Huskies an early 1-0 lead.
Dudgeon was credited with the goal on the play, being the closest player to the puck when it went into the net. It was the first goal of the rookie’s collegiate career.
At 6:49, the Huskies tallied again as the Lowell defense broke down. While on the power play, Lynch centered a pass to the slot to an untouched Willie Levesque. His shot again went off the Hawks defenseman and into the goal to extend the Huskies’ lead to 2-0.
“I couldn’t even fault Cam [McCormick] for the first two goals,” said Whitehead. “They were bounces that went off defensemen both times. Those things are going to happen.”
Things didn’t get better for the River Hawks from there. At 10:26, Ron Hainsey’s suicide pass to Yorick Trielle in the neutral zone turned into a breakaway for an alert Lynch. His shot over the glove of McCormick gave the Huskies a shorthanded goal and a 3-0 lead.
Neither club mustered another goal until halfway through the second period, when Lowell finally got on the board. While on the power play, Laurent Meunier took matters into his own hands, skating through the center zone and down the left-wing side before lifting a puck over the glove of Braun to close the gap to two at 3-1.
For Meunier, who already in the young season was named Hockey East Rookie of the Week, it was his third goal in as many games.
Just as Northeastern did when it first scored, Lowell maintained the momentum and struck again at 12:42. A strange bounce in back of the Husky net with the Hawks shorthanded led to Meunier finding Kyle Kidney alone in front of Braun. The goaltender was unable to recover and Kidney had an empty net to push the puck into to climb within a goal at 3-2.
The third period consisted of lost opportunities for Northeastern to put the game away. The Huskies power play was able to convert on a 5-on-3 man advantage when Lowell took back-to-back penalties 54 seconds apart.
Easily, Lowell’s best bid to tie the game came on the power play with nine minutes left. Meunier was set up perfectly with an open net at the left post but somehow missed the net when he pulled the trigger.
And at 13:29, the Huskies finally took advantage of Lowell penalties, as Lynch scored his second of the game. With the draw to the left of McCormick, Lynch, centering for the Huskies, pushed the puck through the legs of Lowell center Dan Fontas, moved around him, and wristed a shot through the legs of McCormick. It was the first time that Lowell allowed a goal in the third period this season.
“We were poor on faceoffs tonight,” said Whitehead. “It may seem like a little thing, but in close games [faceoffs] can mean a lot.”
Describing the goal, Lynch said it was a move that rarely works.
“I saw the way [the Lowell] center lined up on the draw and I thought I’d try to make a quick move around him,” said Lynch. “It’s a move I like to make, but it probably only works once in 100 times.”
Lowell had one more chance before the end of the game — a power play with less than three minutes remaining that led to a 6-on-4 with a pulled goaltender. But faceoffs again haunted the Hawks, as the Huskies got the initial possession each time, virtually killing the penalty and icing the game.
With 39.1 seconds remaining, Lynch completed his hat trick, launching a 150-foot bomb to the dead center of an open net to account for the 5-2 final.
It was the first time in his career that Lynch has had a three-goal game. As a matter of fact, the junior had only five goals all of last season. Through four games, he has tallied five goals this year.
The win improved Northeastern record to 3-1 (1-0 Hockey East), the best start since Crowder arrived at Northeastern in 1996. Lowell, which will travel to UNH Saturday night, dropped to 2-1 (0-1 Hockey East) on the young season.