LOWELL, Mass. — UMass-Lowell completed its season-long mastery of Boston University with a 3-2 win at the Tsongas Arena on Friday night. The sweep marked a first for the River Hawks, who entered the year with a 7-45-4 mark against the Terriers.
The win moves Lowell (14-11-3, 7-8-3 Hockey East) within a point of playoff home ice behind BU (12-13-2, 8-8-2 Hockey East) and Maine (12-9-6, 7-6-4 Hockey East), the latter of which holds a game in hand.
“They might be the best kept secret in Hockey East,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “They’re playing so well. They’re as good of a team as there is in this league. … We know who the better team between [the two of] us are.”
Dan Fontas led the River Hawks’ offense with two goals in the second period. Fontas, whose father Paul played at BU with Parker, continued to be a major thorn in the Terriers’ side. Of his six goals this year, four have come at BU’s expense. He also scored the game-winner in all three contests, his only game-winners of the year.
“I wish I could play BU every night,” said Fontas with a big smile. “I bring a lot of emotion when I play BU. … I guess I have their number this year.”
If UMass-Lowell needed any extra incentive, it got it from a Boston Globe article written as a Beanpot preview, but run earlier than expected on the morning of this game. The writer, Bob Duffy, had filled in details based on an anticipated win by BU with the presumed intention of changing those details in the event of a loss. Instead, the article appeared unedited and provided some ideal fodder for the Lowell locker room bulletin board.
While Parker dismissed it as any factor and UML coach Tim Whitehead downplayed it as merely “fuel to the fire,” Fontas said it provided “added motivation.”
Parker also dismissed any distraction regarding the Beanpot as a factor.
“We gave them a pretty good game and they still beat us,” he said. “Any other year, if we were playing Lowell and getting ready for the Beanpot final, we might have looked by them. But we didn’t look by them tonight because they’re playing so well, they’re such a good team, they’re chasing us down for home ice and we’d already lost to them twice.
“We made a couple mistakes that were just brutal. But other than those [errors,] I thought it was a pretty good effort by us.
“I have no qualms that we weren’t ready to play tonight. There was no focus on anything but UMass-Lowell and they still beat us.”
In addition to losing two critical points in the Hockey East standings, the Terriers may have also lost their top defenseman, Freddie Meyer, for the Beanpot title game. Meyer suffered a head injury in the second period and even though he tried to return to the game, he could not play. He will be monitored with the hope that he will be available on Monday.
The matchup pitted two of Hockey East’s hottest teams. Lowell was 5-2-3 in its last 10 league games, while BU had won five straight overall and was 10-4-1 in its last 15.
Nonetheless, UMass-Lowell picked up where it had left off in its last meeting with the Terriers, getting the better of play in the first period while grabbing a 1-0 lead. At 6:18, Carl Corazzini raced through center ice, but Yorick Treille stripped him of the puck, broke in on BU goaltender Sean Fields and beat him low along the ice.
Dan Fontas scored twice in the second period, sandwiching a Jack Baker power-play goal, to give Lowell a 3-1 lead.
Fontas’ first came on a textbook give-and-go with Tom Rouleau. Fontas broke over the blue line on the left wing and slid a pass to a trailing, but hustling-to-the-net, Rouleau. Rouleau adroitly drew Fields to himself and then slid the return pass to Fontas, who merely had to shovel the puck into a wide-open net.
“I think that was the best two-on-one in my college career,” said Fontas.
A few minutes later, Josh Allison’s shot from the left point broke through Fields’ pads and threatened to make it 3-0, but a Terrier defender swept the puck out of danger.
Rouleau more than duplicated that defensive play at the midway point of the period. With goaltender Jimi St. John and defender Ron Hainsey both without their sticks and St. John down and out, Rouleau blocked Dan Cavanaugh’s shot on the open net.
Two minutes later, however, there would be no stopping Jack Baker’s backhander along the ice into the far corner to make it a 2-1 game.
The River Hawks reestablished their two-goal margin in the final minute of play on another Fontas goal. With seven seconds left on their fifth power play of the game, they caught BU on a bad line change. Fontas broke in with Peter Hay two-on-one and as defender Pat Aufiero dove to block it, Fontas ripped a sniper’s shot off the underside of the crossbar. St. John had triggered the rush with a pass to Fontas, earning a rare goaltender assist.
BU then outshot UMass-Lowell in third, 11-3, but could only get to within one. St. John made a big stop on a Kenny Magowan partial breakaway at the seven-minute mark.
However, at 14:46 Nick Gillis gave BU life, wristing a 25-footer from the slot past St. John to make it 3-2.
The Terriers pressed in the final minute with an extra skater until a key block and clear of the puck by Kyle Kidney.
Both teams face long-time rivals in the next couple days. UMass-Lowell travels down Route 495 to face Merrimack on Sunday at 2 p.m. Eastern while BU faces Boston College on Monday night at 8 p.m. in the Beanpot championship game.