LOWELL, Mass. — If you think you’ve seen strange endings to a hockey game, hold that thought — unless you were at Tsongas Arena on Saturday night.
After totally dominating the game for 58 minutes, the UMass-Lowell River Hawks found themselves trailing, 4-2, to the No. 13 Union Dutchmen. But thanks to a five-minute major penalty to Union’s Jason Kean for butt-ending with 1:15 remaining, the River Hawks found a new life.
Laurent Meunier scored with 30 seconds left on the power play to pull the River Hawks within a goal, and still skating 6-on-4 with the River Hawks’ goaltender on the bench.
But that is nowhere near strange. After referee Jeff Bunyon whistled matching minors after the goal was scored, Lowell sent only five skaters back for the next faceoff.
The River Hawks finally did realize they were a man short and sent Dan Fontas onto the ice, but by then it was too late. Union’s Jeff Hutchins was breaking down the right wing with the final, empty-net goal on his stick, accounting for a 5-3 final score.
“It’s my fault,” was all Lowell coach Tim Whitehead could say when asked why Lowell was a man short on the center-ice faceoff.
Union coach Kevin Sneddon was perplexed by the whole ending.
“I wasn’t sure what had happened,” Sneddon said. “There had been penalties called and then they were a guy short [on the next faceoff]. I guess it benefited us, but I’m sure they’d like to have that back.”
Not to be lost, though, in the craziness of the final minutes was the remarkable play of Union goaltender Brandon Snee (27 saves). Snee was tested early in the game and then more so with point-blank shots in the third period. But the junior goaltender stood tall, allowing three goals, all on the power play.
“He’s the rock for us,” Sneddon said. “He’s played in every game for us this year and he’s a great quiet leader.
“He makes the easy saves and gives the players confidence back there. That’s why he’s played every game this year.”
Special teams played a major role for both clubs. Union’s power play moved the puck with ease on the Hawks early on before Lowell did the same late in the game.
“We just kept it simple,” said Sneddon about his team’s 3-for-9 performance with the extra man. “We just wanted to get the puck to the net, get to shooting the puck, and tonight it went in.”
Lowell came out of the gate flying, not allowing Union to cross the red line for the first 1 1/2 minutes, and holding the Dutchmen without a shot for 4:51. Thanks to a combination, though, of Lowell inability to hit the net in close and Snee’s ability to stop the tough shot, the game remained scoreless early on.
But when Union’s Bryan Yackel was whistled for the first penalty of the game at 11:30, it didn’t take long for Lowell to capitalize. Once the power play began, Laurent Meunier looked a little bit like Pavel Bure, rushing end-to-end around the Union defense. Snee, though, made the original save, but couldn’t stop Ed McGrane on the rebound, as Lowell took a 1-0 lead.
Union, though, responded with not one, but two power-play tallies of its own. Alex Todd provided the first goal at 13:26, gathering a loose puck in traffic in front of the Lowell net and lifting it past Lowell goaltender Chris Davidson (15 saves). And Doug Christiansen finished off a brilliant rush by Jason Kean to give the Dutchmen a 2-1 lead.
Penalties continued to trouble Lowell, as Jeff Boulanger and Dan Fontas were whistled 10 seconds apart to give Union a five-on-three power play late in the period. And like the first two Union power plays, it didn’t take the Dutchmen long to capitalize.
Seamus Galligan walked from the right faceoff dot untouched to the right post, where he slid a pass across to Jeff Wilson. Unguarded, Wilson had to simply push the puck into the open net at 18:42 to give Union a 3-1 lead.
Similar to the first period, the second started with complete River Hawks pressure. But similar to the result of the first, it was the Union bench that was all smiles.
When Lowell defenseman R.J. Tolan fanned on an empty-net setup, Union’s Todd took full advantage. Blasting full speed down the right wing, Todd unleashed a blast that caught Davidson moving, beating him between the legs to give the Dutchmen a 4-1 lead.
Late in the second period, Lowell put forth the most sustained offensive effort of both teams while on the power play, but Union was prepared. As Lowell continuously looked for a shot from the high point in hopes to bang home a rebound, Snee stood tall, and the Dutchmen defense simply tied up the River Hawk players in front of the net.
Snee stole the show early in the third period, River Hawks captain Brad Rooney twice in close. The first time, Snee made a sliding pad save to take away an empty net for Rooney, and the second, Snee stopped Rooney as he walked in untouched on a breakaway.
With 8:05 remaining, though, Rooney exacted his revenge. Set up on the post to the right of Snee, Rooney took a pass from Kyle Kidney and roofed it over Snee to pull the Hawks within two at 4-2.
Lowell, though, missed golden opportunities to get closer on the next few shifts. Tolan missed an empty net for the River Hawks at 12:20. And then Kidney fanned on a rebound of a McGrane shot off the left post with just under five minutes left.
That all set up the wild ending and the win for the Dutchmen.
Both teams suffered major losses in the game, though. Union will be without Kean for the next game because of a one-game suspension for the butt-ending penalty. The River Hawks will be without the services of Treille, who suffered a concussion in the third period. He is listed as day-to-day.
The win is the first on the road for Union, its first over UMass-Lowell and improved the club’s record to 6-1-1. It was Lowell’s first non-league loss of the year, dropping its record to 5-7.