BOSTON — It was a record-setting night at Matthews Arena on Saturday night, when UMass-Lowell defeated Northeastern, 6-2. For the Hockey East Association, though, it’s probably a record they’d like to forget.
Referee Tim Benedetto, along with assistant officials Tom Fyrer and Chuck Wynters, lost control early in a contest that broke the longstanding Hockey East record for penalties, with 52 whistles for 179 minutes. The old record of 148 minutes was recorded Feb. 26, 1986, between Providence and Lowell.
Both coaches, Tim Whitehead of Lowell and Bruce Crowder of Northeastern, wouldn’t discuss the officials — Hockey East coaches are subject to fines for commenting to the media on officiating — but there was plenty of reason for both coaches to want to.
During the game, Northeastern lost its leading goalscorer, Mike Ryan, who was whistled for butt-ending at 6:57 of the first when Fyrer whistled the infraction behind the play. The accompanying game disqualification will result in Ryan being suspended for the first quarterfinal playoff game next weekend.
“We’ve got a tough situation going into the playoffs missing our leading goalscorers on a call that we can’t verify it because we can’t see it on the film,” said Crowder.
In the whole mess, there were a total of 23 power plays, with both teams scoring twice. Lowell had nine opportunities, while Northeastern had a whopping 14 chances.
Said Whitehead, “We played well defensively, but we especially played well on the penalty kill.”
Much of that could be credited to goaltender Jimi St. John (37 saves), who improved his record on the season to 13-8-1. Countless times the Huskies seemed to be staring at an open net, only to have St. John recover.
Pacing the offense for the River Hawks were defenseman Ron Hainsey (two goals, one assist) and the fourth line of Geoff Schmogyi, Peter Hay and Ken Farrell (two goals, four assists).
“[The fourth line] looked great all week in practice,” said Whitehead of a trio that has now been together for a week and a half. “We had a feeling they might have a big game tonight and obviously they did.”
Northeastern used two netminders on the night. Starting goaltender Mike Gilhooly (16 saves) was replaced after Lowell’s fifth goal 20 seconds into the third period, with third-string tender Matt Coates (five saves) finishing the game.
The opening period featured plenty of offensive action, made possible by 10 penalties for 31 minutes.
Lowell was the only team to cash in on the power play, scoring while the Huskies were serving Ryan’s butt-ending major. Hainsey one-timed a pass from Laurent Meunier that Gilhooly never saw with the screen in front, giving Lowell at 1-0 lead.
The River Hawks extended the lead at 12:24 after stretches of play as sparse as 3-on-3. Twenty seconds after both teams finally got back to even strength, Hay buried a feed from Farrell to give Lowell a 2-0 lead.
At 7:02 of the second, Hay struck again, on a 3-on-2 rush identical to his first goal. After taking a pass from Schmogyi at the blue line, Farrell fed Hay, who deked Gilhooly and roofed a shot for the 3-0 Lowell lead.
Northeastern finally answered with a power-play goal, converting on its ninth man-advantage of the night. Graig Mischler scored his tenth goal of the year, burying a shot from the slot off a pass from Mike Josefowicz to cut the Lowell lead to two at 3-1.
But the River Hawks converted with just 62 seconds remaining in the second when Steve Slonina scored his second goal of the season with a beautiful one-handed shot from the doorstep that slipped between Gilhooly’s legs for the 4-1 Lowell lead. Ironically, Slonina’s only other goal — or point, for that matter — came in a 2-1 victory at Matthews Arena in January.
As the closing buzzer for the second period sounded, pushing and shoving in front of the Lowell bench turned into a full-line brawl. The result was 25 penalties for 114 minutes, including eight 10-minute misconducts.
Northeastern ended up with a two-minute power play from the scuffle and ended up scoring — unfortunately for them, though, in the wrong net. Josefowicz and Gilhooly got mixed up in transitioning the puck at the left post of the NU net, and the puck caromed off Josefowicz’s stick and into the net. Lowell’s Ed McGrane was credited with the goal.
Unsurprisingly, additional penalties in the third resulted in a 5-on-3 advantage for the Huskies with 10:17 to play, prompting Crowder to pull his netminder in favor of a 6-on-3 advantage. Few quality opportunities resulted, prompting Crowder return the goaltender the same way he was pulled, on the fly.
A Northeastern penalty shortly after Lowell returned to full strength resulted in Hainsey’s second power-play goal of the game at 12:44. Northeastern’s Kevin Welch countered with a power-play goal with 4:17 remaining for the 6-2 final.
The win clinched a fifth-place finish for Lowell, as the River Hawks ended up 23 points in the standings and hold the tiebreaker over Boston University. Lowell will face New Hampshire in the first round of the Hockey East playoffs, against which the ‘Hawks lost the season series, 0-1-2.
Northeastern finishes the year in seventh place by virtue of UMass-Amherst losing on Saturday night at UNH, and will travel to Maine for the first round. The Huskies are 0-1-2 against the Black Bears this season.