BUFFALO, N.Y. — Sophomore Ben Walter picked up his first career hat trick, scoring the first three goals of the game for UMass-Lowell as the River Hawks rolled past Niagara 6-1 Friday evening in the first game of the Xerox Punch Imlach College Hockey Showcase at HSBC Arena.
“I’m very happy about tonight,” said Walter. “It was the kind of night where the pucks kept going in for me. The first two goals were great looks, and it was just downhill from there.”
With the performance Walter (7-0-7) picked up the goal-scoring lead in Hockey East, along with the edge in power-play markers (5). The last player to record a hat trick for UML was Ed McGrane, who picked up three goals against Merrimack on February 3, 2002.
The River Hawks jumped onto the scoreboard at 2:15 of the first period, as UML converted not only its first power-play opportunity of the day, but its first shot of the game. Sophomore Elias Godoy won a draw at the top of the Niagara zone, and the puck found its way over to classmate Walter. Walter wristed a shot low along the ice, beating Purple Eagle goaltender Allen Barton five-hole for the 1-0 advantage.
UML capitalized on its second power play of the period to increase its lead to two. Senior Jerramie Domish executed a beautiful pass from deep in the Niagara zone to Walter at the blueline. This time Walter beat Barton high glove side, rifling a shot at 8:54.
Niagara broke onto the scoresheet at 10:31 in the first. Barret Ehgoetz tipped a shot from Brian Hartman in front of the net, a power-play goal to make it 2-1. Although the River Hawks had scored on their first two shots of the game, the Purple Eagles went into the locker room leading on the shot chart, 7-3.
Walter completed the hat trick at 3:51 with his third power-play goal of the game, his seventh goal of the season, after he poked in his own rebound on a sprawled Barton.
The River Hawks added their fourth goal of the game at 6:27 of the second, the first even-strength goal of the contest for UML. After a faceoff win for UML, sophomore Andrew Martin sent a pass across the slot to linemate Godoy on the right side low. Godoy lifted his shot high over the pads of Barton for a 4-1 lead. After being outshot in the first, the River Hawks turned the tables in the second, peppering Niagara for 17 shots in the period.
UML added two more goals in the third period as sophomore Mark Pandolfo and freshman Chris Fontas each tallied their first of the season, with Fontas’ marker coming on the power play.
“It could have been very different at the end of the first twenty minutes,” said UML head coach Blaise MacDonald. “I thought Niagara outplayed us, outworked us, and out-competed us in the battle zone. If it wasn’t for our goaltender Chris Davidson, it probably would have been 4-2 Niagara at the end of one.
Davidson made 14 saves, picking up his first win of the season, while Barton stopped a total of 30 shots. The power play proved plentiful for UML, with the River Hawks going 4-for-9, while Niagara’s only goal came from the man-advantage, going 1-for-5.
“In the first period, 5-on-5, we clearly outworked Lowell,” said Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder. “We outshot them, we were rolling along pretty good. Even though we were down 2-0, I thought that we were clearly in control of the game, and starting to build momentum. We started taking penalties, and some of our key guys were killing penalty after penalty. The penalties disrupted our control of the game.
“Even when we didn’t score, we had some great looks,” said MacDonald on his man-advantage unit. “We had great puck-possession time, and did a great job.
“I would like my team to play like Niagara in the battle zones, competing for loose pucks, and driving in the offensive zone.”
Niagara and UML will meet once again later this season, December 14 at Tsongas Arena.
Saturday UMass-Lowell (1-2-1, 0-1-0 HE) will play Canisius at 7 p.m., while Niagara (0-2-0, 0-0-0 CHA) battles top-ranked New Hampshire at 4.