LOWELL, Mass. — The UMass-Lowell Lowell River Hawks scored four goals in span of 3:07 halfway through the second period on Friday night to break a 2-2 tie, en route to a 7-2 victory over the Holy Cross Crusaders at the Tsongas Arena.
Lowell senior captain Brad Rooney didn’t score a single goal, but led the River Hawk offense, registering four assists. Rookie Laurent Meunier, who along with junior Yorick Treille leads Lowell in goal scoring, registered a goal and two assists.
UMass-Lowell coach Tim Whitehead, happy with his team’s victory, joked about Rooney’s performance.
“The St. Catherine’s Bantam Team was here [tonight] and gave Brad an inspirational speech before the game,” Whitehead joked, referring to the fact that Rooney’s hometown club, playing in a local tournament, was attending the game. “He thought he was back playing in Bantams, which was probably the last time he scored four assists.”
All joking aside, the Lowell offense clicked well, and after the first 20 minutes of play, the defense followed suit.
“In the first period, we didn’t take care of business defensively,” Whitehead said. “We gave up a couple of two-on-ones and they capitalized.
“We talked about it as a team and took the first intermission to regroup. From there, we played good team defense.”
It was the first meeting of these two clubs since Lowell transitioned to Division I in 1984. Holy Cross, a member of the MAAC, moved from Division II to Division I three seasons ago. With Friday’s victory, Lowell holds a lopsided 20-6 lead in the series.
Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl agreed with Whitehead’s assessment of Lowell’s defense, saying that Lowell’s defense was “strong” and one of the best he’s seen.
“They overwhelmed us at times with their strength and speed,” Pearl said. “But they played such good team defense. They’re a very well-coached team, and they shut us down defensively.”
Besides being strong defensively, Lowell’s defensive was offensive as well. The River Hawks’ defense had scored only seven goals entering the game, but accounted for four of the River Hawks’ seven goals. Two of those goals came from Ron Hainsey, a first-round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens.
Hainsey leads the team in points with 14 (four goals, 10 assists) and is only one goal behind Laurent Meunier and Yorick Treille, who lead the team with five goals.
Whitehead acknowledged that defensive contribution to the offense is important, but noted it’s not his biggest concern.
“I’m not worried that much about scoring goals this year,” said Whitehead, whose team is averaging 3.8 goals per game, up from 2.9 last season. “Our most important thing is penalty killing. We took a couple of tough penalties tonight, but killed them pretty well.”
Pretty well could be considered an understatement, as Lowell killed off five of six Crusaders power plays, with the only goal coming on a five-minute major power play in the opening period. Lowell has killed off 15 of its last 16 man-down situations (93.8 percent), after killing just 31 of its first 45 (68.9%) penalty-kill attempts this season.
In net for the River Hawks, Cam McCormick (13 saves) picked up his first win of the season after dropping three of his first four starts and getting a no-decision in the fourth.
“Cam had a good game against Maine [a 2-0 loss],” Whitehead said. “[In general] our goaltending has been deceiving. We’ve seen improvement from all [of our goaltenders]. It may not show it statistically, but [the goaltenders] have made progress.”
For Holy Cross, junior Derek Cunha (25 saves), playing in his first season after transferring from Trinity College and sitting out last season by rule of the NCAA, kept his club in the game early, facing a high number of quality shots.
Pearl, though pleased with Cunha’s performance, noted that tough saves are expected.
“We expect [our goaltenders] to make a couple of big saves,” Pearl said. “Our goaltender kept us in it early, but so did [McCormick]. He made some big saves when the score was 2-2. Who knows what happens if we get a 3-2 lead.”
It didn’t take long for the River Hawks to get on the scoreboard. With the Crusaders’ Joe Milot serving a penalty for obstruction-interference, Hainsey one-timed a pass from Meunier past a moving Cunha at 4:08 to give Lowell a 1-0 lead.
Pearl, impressed with the play of Hainsey, took note of the defenseman’s strength.
“If Cunha saves [Hainsey's shot], he’d probably break his leg,” Pearl joked. “He’s got a pretty good shot.”
The Crusaders nearly tied the game 3 1/2 minutes later as Jeff Dams was set up all alone in front. The rookie, though, couldn’t pull the trigger right away and allowed McCormick to get into position and make the save.
Lowell extended its lead at 9:54 when Hainsey was allowed to skate in back of the Holy Cross defense while the Crusaders were on the power play. Rooney’s long pass found Hainsey in stride, allowing the sophomore to walk in alone and beat Cunha low on the blocker side to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead.
The Crusaders got on the board at 13:20 when Greg Kealey and Brandon Doria skated two-on-one from the Lowell blue line. After Dams dished the puck to Doria entering the offensive zone, he sent a perfect pass across the slot that Kealey deflected between the legs of McCormick to pull Holy Cross within a goal at 2-1.
At 17:01 of the first, Lowell was dealt a major blow — literally. Sophomore Geoff Schomogyi was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for hitting from behind for a hit levied in front of the Lowell penalty box. It didn’t take the Crusaders long to capitalize.
One minute, one second later, Doria along with Tim Coskren caught Lowell trying to be too aggressive on the penalty kill, allowing Holy Cross a two-on-one break. Doria fed the puck across to Coskern, who beat McCormick on a mirror image of the first Holy Cross goal, tying the game at 2 through 20 minutes.
At 8:16 of the second period, Mark Concannon’s solo effort didn’t result in a goal, but rather a hooking penalty to Holy Cross’ R.J. Irving. The River Hawks took advantage of the ensuing power play. Meunier finished of a post-to-post pass by Ed McGrane to give the River Hawks the lead back at 3-2.
That goal opened the floodgates.
A minute later, Jeff Boulanger was able to gather a puck in the left corner, walk in front of the net and roof a goal over the fallen Cunha.
Lowell then capitalized for two goals 13 seconds apart. Yorick Treille finished off a feed from Brad Rooney on the power play at 11:36. And at 11:49, Rooney set up Kevin Kotyluk, whose blast from the right point beat a screened Cunha.
At this point, it had taken only 187 seconds for the Hawks to completely change the face of the game, scoring all four goals in that time span.
“They got a little momentum, to say the least,” Pearl said. “We broke down a couple of times and got running around.”
The Hawks finished the scoring in the third, as R.J. Tolan’s blast from the left point was saved by Cunha with the rebound bouncing off of Crusaders defenseman Tim Bernstein and into the net.
The win, the third of the season for Lowell of a MAAC team, improved the River Hawks’ record to 5-6, and a perfect 4-0 outside of Hockey East. Holy Cross dropped to 2-7-1, with an 0-2 record outside of the MAAC. The Crusaders will have thee more chances to upset a “big four” club, starting next weekend when they club travels to Vermont. Holy Cross will also play road games against Providence and Yale later in the season.
The River Hawks return to action Saturday night when they host No. 15 Union on Saturday night, while Holy Cross will rest a day before traveling to Army for a Sunday afternoon MAAC game.