CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The game lived up to every ounce of its billing.
No. 10 Boston College gave No. 5 UMass-Lowell everything it could handle, but still couldn’t muster a victory as the River Hawks squeaked by BC, 3-2, in a hard-checking, tight defensive affair.
The victory for Lowell and defeat for Boston College came amidst locker rooms filled more with bandage and splint than sticks and pucks. The Eagles found themselves without the services of top sophomore phenom Ben Eaves (ribs, out indefinitely), defenseman John Adams (thumb surgery) and rookie goaltender Matti Kaltiainen (groin).
Lowell was missing its top two centers; Laurent Meunier continues to rest a sore shoulder and Ed McGrane was absent due to a death in the family.
The missing bodies translated into scrambled line combinations and the need for, as Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald put it, “some people to step up.”
Both teams, in essence, got exactly that, though Lowell possibly a bit more. Senior centerman Dan Fontas, who entered the game with only one goal on the year, scored a crucial power-play tally that wound up being the game winner. Defenseman Darryl Green chipped in with a goal of his own and an assist on Fontas’ tally. And goaltender Cam McCormick continued doing what he’s done best all year — come up big in a tight situations.
MacDonald also knew coming in that his depleted lineup further put an emphasis on shutting down a Boston College offense that entered the game averaging 3.45 goals per game.
“[Injuries] put more of an onus on team defense,” said MacDonald, whose team responded by holding Boston College to only three shots in the final period while protecting the lead. “Tonight we showed our ability to recognize danger and compete down low defensively.”
McCormick was a crucial part of that team defense, even in only seeing 21 shots on the night. His ability to stop a breakaway by Tony Voce and back-to-back bids by David Spina early in the game kept the near-capacity crowd of 7,132 at Kelley Rink out of the game.
The first period that saw some of the best physical play of the year saw each team strike once.
Lowell scored first, as junior surprise Steve Slonina banged a rebound of two consecutive shots of the stick of Anders Strome past a fallen Tim Kelleher (20 saves) at 11:21. The play developed after a BC defender lost the puck in his own zone, giving Strome two point blank shots.
It appeared as though Lowell would survive a BC attack late in the period, but with 19.1 seconds remaining, the Eagles evened the score. Spina stripped Lowell’s Kevin Kotyluk just inside the blue line and walked in alone on McCormick, beating him five hole to knot the game at one.
Offensively, the second period was all Lowell. Defenseman Darryl Green found the handled to a misguided shot from Josh Allison and snuck out in front to beat Kelleher at 4:43.
“Allison made a great play to keep [the puck] in,” said Green, who now has three goals on the season, doubling his total of his first two seasons. “He shot it but it missed short side. I pulled the puck in front of the net and I had a lot of net to shoot at.”
Fontas would give Lowell all the offense it needed at 14:42 as the anemic River Hawk power play struck. With a Boston College defender stickless in front of Kelleher, Fontas fired a shot through a screen in front, giving the goalie no chance.
It was only the 11th power-play goal of the season for Lowell.
The goal sent Lowell into the second intermission with exactly what it wanted — a two-goal cushion. From there, MacDonald’s club could simply do what its has done best all season, buckle down the defense.
Lowell limited the Eagles to only three shots in the period, but one, a hard wrister from defenseman Brett Peterson, fooled McCormick to send the game into the final minutes a one-goal contest.
Lowell, though, stood tall, thanks in part to solid defensive effort like a beautiful Fontas poke check on Jeff Giuliano that stymied a scoring chance in the final minute.
Friday’s win, coupled with a 7-2 victory at Boston College in October marks the first time that Lowell has won the season series since 1996-97 — the year before BC started its run of Frozen Four appearances. As a matter of fact, the season in between never saw the River Hawks win a single game, dropping 15 straight to the Eagles entering this year.
“Any time you can take to win [on the road] against BC, it’s definitely nice,” said McCormick, who, with 10 wins on the season, has now doubled his career total.
The victory, coupled with a Boston University tie at Providence Friday night pushes Lowell (15-3-1, 7-2-1 Hockey East) into sole possession of second place, one point behind top dog New Hampshire.
Boston College (12-7-2, 5-5-1) remains in a deadlock for fourth place with Maine, which fell 2-1 in overtime on Friday.
The River Hawks and Eagles will rematch in the back end of the home-and-home series Saturday night in Lowell.