LOWELL, Mass. — Fans at Tsongas Arena on Sunday night had a tough time figuring out which team was ranked third in the nation and which one was struggling to stay over .500 for the season. It turned out that Northeastern completed a weekend sweep of No. 3 UMass-Lowell with an impressive 5-1 win Sunday.
“Embarassing,” was how UMass-Lowell head coach Blaise McDonald bluntly summed up his team’s performance. He then excused himself from the press conference, saying he needed to “throw up after seeing this dismal performance.”
Northeastern (12-9-3, 6-6-2 HEA) is now just two points behind Maine for fourth in the league, which is the final home-ice spot. Lowell fell to 16-5-1 (8-4-1 HEA).
“This was a good team win,” said Northeastern head coach Bruce Crowder. “All four lines contributed tonight.”
It was just one weekend ago that Lowell swept a weekend series over Boston College to move into first place in Hockey East and a No. 3 ranking in the country. Lowell now falls to third in the league behind New Hampshire and Boston University, which defeated BC, 3-1, earlier in the day.
Northeastern controlled the game from the opening faceoff. The Huskies got on the scoreboard midway through the first period. Mike Ryan worked a give and go with Jason Guerriero behind the Lowell net. Ryan took the pass and snuck a shot, short side, past Lowell goalie Jimi St. John.
“This was the biggest weekend of the season,” said Ryan “The last couple of weeks have been big for us.”
The Huskies extended their lead just before the end of the first period. Leon Hayward was the beneficiary of a Lowell turnover just outside its blue line. He walked in alone and beat St. John between the pads. It was Hayward’s second goal in as many games over the weekend.
It was the 11th time this year that Northeastern jumped out to a 2-0 lead, including Friday night’s game against Lowell.
The Huskies put the game away early in the second. Arik Engbrecht found a streaking Jaron Herriman, who jumped off the bench in a line change to set up a breakaway. Herriman roofed the puck over St. John to extend Northeastern’s lead to three goals.
After a charging call on Mark Concannon, Jim Fahey one-timed a shot from the point to increase the lead to four goals. It was Northeastern’s second power-play goal of the night.
The night for Lowell was summed up on one play: St. John ventured out of the net to retrieve a Northeastern clearing pass. As he was trying to get the puck to his defensemen, it was intercepted by Eric Ortlip who, in turn, buried the puck into the open net.
“I think this is the first time I have been up 5-0 going into the third period in a Hockey East game at Northeastern,” said Crowder.
Northeastern goalie Keni Gibson was denied his second shutout of the season when Andres Strome broke in alone and cut the Northeastern lead to 5-1. Gibson finished the game with 23 saves including 11 in the final period.
“Gibson doesn’t give up any second and third chances,” said Crowder of the freshman goalie. Gibson has played in every game since Nov. 27.
Northeastern is just finishing a six-game stretch against nationally-ranked teams. After losing at home to BU two weeks ago, it managed to finish the stretch with a 4-0-1 record.
St. John, who fell victim to poor play in front of him, finished with 16 saves.
Lowell will now miss three of its top players for the next couple of weeks. Yorick Treille, Laurent Meunier, and Baptiste Amar will skate for the French Olympic team and be lost for the upcoming stretch run.
“Maybe we were thinking about it,” said McDonald about the departing Olympians.
Northeastern returns to action next weekend with a home-and-home series with UMass-Amherst. Lowell is home to entertain Maine for the weekend.