LOWELL, Mass. — UMass-Lowell rallied from a 4-3 third-period deficit to score five unanswered goals and defeat Boston College, 8-4. The win completed a sweep of the weekend’s home-and-home series as well as the season’s three-game set, a fact made all the more satisfying since the River Hawks entered the season with a 15-game losing streak against BC.
The game was much closer than the final score indicated. With three minutes remaining, Lowell held only a 5-4 lead before breaking open what had been a see-saw game.
An over-capacity crowd of 6,796 witnessed the wide-open contest. With 300 standing room only tickets sold, it became the best-attended River Hawks home game ever and the first sellout of Tsongas Arena since its first year.
Thirteen different River Hawks factored in the scoring, led by Steve Slonina’s goal and two assists, Mark Concannon’s three assists and Ed McGrane’s two goals. McGrane had missed the previous night’s contest due to the death of his grandmother, flying back from Hamilton, Ont. to arrive at 7:50 a.m.
As a result of the win, Lowell (16-3-1, 8-2-1 HEA) moves into first place, leapfrogging idle New Hampshire. The Wildcats, who host Providence on Sunday, hold a game in hand.
Despite the first-place milestone and the sweep of the season’s series, the Lowell locker room was far from ebullient. Instead, the focus rested on the breakdowns that could have cost the River Hawks, but didn’t.
“The problem is that sometimes Old Coach MacDonald doesn’t let them get excited,” said UML coach Blaise MacDonald. “The way I looked at it is, we got through it. But there were a lot of coaching moments [arising from the breakdowns]. We have to get better as a team and the team knows that.
“If the [NCAA Tournament] Selection Show was tomorrow, we’d be really excited. But we have a lot of hay to put in the barn yet.”
The game marked the first time all season that UML goaltender Cam McCormick has given up more than two goals. He entered the evening with a 10-1-1 record and a 0.85 GAA and .963 save percentage, the latter two marks the best in the nation.
“It’s good to see that our team doesn’t fall apart when he lets in a couple goals,” said MacDonald. “I think he’d want a couple of goals back that got by him, but it’s another experience where our team just says, ‘Yeah, we’ve just got to get more than the other team.’
“Cam will be the first one to tell you that if you win 15-14, that’s okay.”
Boston College (12-8-2, 5-6-1 HEA) had entered the weekend series with a 10-2-1 record in its last 13 games, lifting the Eagles to a No. 10 ranking, but saw that momentum stopped dead in its tracks by the fifth-ranked River Hawks.
“They’ve got a good club, and for us to beat a good club we’ve got to play very well in the third period,” said BC coach Jerry York. “I thought we played very well for the first two periods.
“It was a game up for grabs in the third period. Both teams were playing well, but Lowell just played better than we did in the third. … In crunch time, we just have to be better.”
The first period ended deadlocked, 1-1, as both sides played defensively resulting in few strong scoring chances.
The first one didn’t come until just past the eight-minute mark during a BC power play. Concannon poked the puck away from traffic in the neutral zone, sending McGrane in a breakaway. The junior, who has scored four of the River Hawks’ five shorthanded goals this year, deked Tim Kelleher, but the netminder made the tough save.
The Eagles got on the board first at 12:43 when Jeff Giuliano raced up the right wing and dropped a pass for Dave Spina, who beat Cam McCormick with a backhander.
The River Hawks evened the score less than two minutes later with the same Concannon-McGrane tandem that had almost scored shorthanded earlier. McGrane put in the rebound of a Concannon shot.
The offensive opportunities came a lot more freely in the second period with both sides converting twice.
Just a minute and a half in, Josh Reed scored on a shot from the point thanks to a great screen by Peter Hay, who cut across the front of the crease.
The 2-1 lead didn’t last long, though. With Lowell on the power play threatening to widen the margin, a brutally ill-advised blind pass at the point by Yorick Treille inadvertently sent Ryan Murphy off on a breakaway. The BC freshman deked and put his shot past McCormick.
“The shorthanded goal just sucked the life right out of us,” said MacDonald. “But we’re fortunate to have an older team with some maturity and collective leadership and that’s, quite frankly, why we pulled ourselves out of the ruts that we created.”
McGrane put Lowell back on top again, 3-2, at 9:57, outracing a BC defender to the puck, curling behind the Eagle net and roofing it over Kelleher after the netminder went down.
The scoreboard see-saw continued little more than three minutes later when BC defenseman J.D. Forrest put a shot into the top of the net through a double-screen set by Giuliano and Tony Voce.
The offensive emphasis went from hot to boiling over in the third period.
Giuliano gave the Eagles their first lead since the first period at 1:04, whacking in the rebound of a Ryan Shannon shot.
UMass-Lowell, however, would respond with five unanswered goals. Just a minute and a half after Giuliano struck, a terrific play by Niklas Storm evened the score at 4-4. Jerramie Domish swung around the back of the net and got the puck to Storm in front on the left side. Storm held off a defender and slid a Gretzky-esque pass to Ken Farrell on the weak side where the senior buried it.
The deadlock appeared to have been broken by McGrane midway through the period when he blasted up the right wing, cut in and put the puck in as bodies crashed the net. Referee Conrad Hache, however, ruled that the net had been knocked off its moorings.
Lowell grabbed the 5-4 lead at 12:27 when Anders Strome fought off a defender and, with Kelleher sprawling to make the save, lifted a backhander into the net.
The game remained up for grabs, however, until Darryl Green scored a vital insurance goal at 17:16. Seconds earlier, Concannon had been stopped on a partial breakaway, but the junior slid the puck to the point and Green’s slapper deflected in off BC defenseman Andrew Alberts’ leg.
With 30 seconds remaining, Slonina scored an empty net goal. Kelleher returned between the BC pipes only to have Kevin Kotyluk then score his first of the season for the final 8-4 margin.
Both teams return to action next weekend with home-and-home series, Lowell facing Northeastern while BC takes on Boston University.