LOWELL, Mass. — For an entire season, no team had been able to put more than four goals past Cam McCormick. This weekend, Boston University did it twice, following up a 5-1 win at home with a 5-3 margin on the road. The Terriers now enjoy a seven-game win streak, their longest since the 1997-98 season.
By contrast, UMass-Lowell has now fallen to a 1-7-2 record in its last 10 contests. During most of that stretch, the River Hawks played without three key players — Yorick Treille, Laurent Meunier and Baptiste Amar — who were competing with the French national team in the Olympics. However, all three played in this game, albeit in subpar physical condition. Meunier was playing in his sixth game in eight nights; all three had enjoyed little sleep while catching a redeye flight back to Boston.
Ironically, the second period proved pivotal even though the Terriers only scored one goal. UMass-Lowell had finished the first stanza strong, taking a 2-1 lead with all the momentum. Arguably the margin should have been 3-1 because of an Ed McGrane shorthanded attempt on which the red light never went on but subsequent videotape reportedly showed went into the net.
Nonetheless, BU came back to dominate the second period, outattempting Lowell, 16-2, and outshooting them, 11-1. In another irony, the lone goal to make it 2-2 was a soft one, the latest in a string of them that has McCormick, once viewed as a Hobey Baker Award hopeful, likely riding the bench next game.
“I thought the second goal was the absolute game,” said UML coach Blaise MacDonald. “We get through that period, 2-1, and we’re in fine shape, but they get a faceoff goal that goes right into the middle of our net. That’s just unacceptable. … We need to get better goaltending.
“Cam has shown he can make some big saves, but we can’t have soft goals. That’s the killer for a team, because that really sucks a lot of energy and momentum out of you. Cam battles, but lately, for some reason, there have been too many soft goals.”
When asked if Jimi St. John, Lowell’s stretch run goaltender last year, was too rusty since McCormick had played the last eight games and St. John had not impressed in his limited action of late, MacDonald answered, “We like Jimi.”
Boston University (21-7-2, 13-5-2 HEA) now remains within a point of first place New Hampshire with the win and has created some distance between itself and the rest of the field since third-place Maine tied while fourth-place Northeastern and fifth-place Lowell all lost.
“It was a great game for us, playing on the road like we did, being down, 2-1,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “It looked like Lowell was coming after us pretty good [in the first period].
“Then I think we had one of our greatest periods of hockey in a long, long time and that was the second period. They only had one shot. We only got one goal, but we really turned the tide around a little bit. Then, obviously, getting three unanswered goals in the third was pretty nice.”
Parker pointed to several factors in his team’s hot streak that has included a Beanpot championship and a sweep of the River Hawks, who swept the Terriers last year.
“We’ve gotten a lot more confident and because of that, we’ve played with a lot more poise,” he said. “We’ve become a solid forechecking team, but most importantly we’ve become a real solid team regrouping and moving the puck out of our zone and through center ice. Our defense has really matured and played with a lot more poise and I think our forwards are making some great plays through center ice.”
For Lowell (17-10-3, 9-8-3 HEA), the recent woes continued. Atop Hockey East and ranked third in the country with a 16-3-1 record in early January, the River Hawks have now stumbled to a 1-7-2 mark since Jan. 18. While the scoring has faltered and McCormick gone from off-the-charts outstanding to very ordinary, the defense has also made a mind-numbing turnover or two each game that has giftwrapped goals for opponents. Such was the case again this evening.
“It concerns me deeply,” said MacDonald. “As our defense goes as a unit, our team will go. They are the backbone of our team. Having Baptiste Amar back is going to give confidence to some other players, but when we play soft, we’re a very poor team. When we play aggressively, we’re a very good team.”
The first period included three goals, all of them unassisted. Coincidentally, two of them came from graduates of Boston College High School: BU’s Mark Mullen and UML’s Steve Slonina.
Lowell garnered two of the three, befitting a territorial edge that resulted in an 8-3 shot advantage.
Mullen broke the ice first, however, just 3:48 into the game. Cutting across the slot right to left, he shot low against the grain to beat Cam McCormick glove side.
The Terriers almost doubled that lead three minutes later when Bryan Miller clanged the far post from the right point.
At 14:17, Lowell evened the game when Peter Hay picked off a D-to-D pass and was off to the races. He broke in on Sean Fields, deked and lifted the shot into the net.
Two and a half minutes later, Lowell grabbed one of the few leads it has enjoyed in recent weeks. Slonina worked the puck behind the BU net before swinging in front and stuffing it backhanded past Fields.
Lowell kept the momentum going its way as the first period progressed, getting two more great chances without any results on the scoreboard. Anders Strome threatened with Kevin Kotyluk on a two-on-one down low, but Strome shot over the net.
While shorthanded less than a minute later, Slonina and Ed McGrane broke up ice two-on-one and Slonina set up the nation’s top shorthanded scorer all alone. Most press box observers thought he had put the puck into the net and it then caromed out. Reportedly videotape confirmed that contention, but no goal was signaled.
When asked the effect of losing a goal that would have given the River Hawks at 3-1 lead, MacDonald said, “Gargantuan. That’s why we have officials, I guess.”
The Terriers came back strong, dominating the second period. They outattempted Lowell, 16-2, and outshot them, 11-1, while also scoring the lone goal.
They had a glittering opportunity at the eight-minute mark when Jack Baker took off on a shorthanded breakaway only to be stymied by a great McCormick save. Then at 12:00, Ed McGrane was hooked down carrying the puck in his defensive slot, but referee Conrad Hache made one of the evening’s many inexplicable, inconsistent call/non-calls. BU picked up the loose puck and attempted to slide the puck to a loose teammate on the far post only to be broken up on a great defensive play by Amar.
Having dodged those two bullets, however, Lowell still allowed the tying goal on an innocuous Freddy Meyer slapshot from the point at 14:47 that may have greased the skids to the bench for McCormick.
BU freshman Justin Maiser, fresh off a Beanpot MVP performance, gave the Terriers a 3-2 lead on a two-on-one at 6:02 of the third. Taking a perfect feed from David Klema, Maiser eluded backchecker Kevin Kotyluk and put the shot past McCormick.
Five minutes later, Baker applied the back-breaker. With Lowell on the power play and a goal down, Baker pounced on a brutal Josh Reed turnover for a shorthanded goal to make it 4-2.
With two minutes remaining, Kenny Magowan whacked in a puck that was in the crease for BU’s fifth goal. Lowell’s Tom Rouleau scored a meaningless goal from the right boards with two seconds remaining.
BU returns to action next weekend with a home-and-home series with Providence. UMass-Lowell travels to New Hampshire on Friday and Merrimack on Sunday.