LOWELL, Mass. — Massachusetts-Lowell used five straight goals, including three in a five-and-a-half minute span of the second period, to knock off Bentley, 5-2, at the Tsongas Arena.
According to Lowell head coach Blaise MacDonald, the win was about as good as he could have expected from his club.
“It been a long time since I’ve played in these games, but to coach, I have a hard time coaching these types of game,” said MacDonald of his club that was the extremely heavy favorite over a Bentley team playing its first Hockey East opponent in school history. The Falcons are a member of the Atlantic Hockey Association.
The River Hawks sported the ultimate new look — with MacDonald sitting many of the team’s regular starters and top goaltender Chris Davidson in order to give some younger players the opportunity to impress.
“We had such a diverse, new lineup that I really didn’t know what to expect,” said MacDonald. “I was just looking for solid individual effort and for the most part we got that tonight.”
That effort did come for the River Hawks but not until after a first period that not only saw Bentley jump out to an early lead, but beat Lowell in many of the one-on-one puck battles.
The Falcons shocked the extremely small midweek River Hawk crowd at 6:11 of the opening period when Ryan Mayhew moved down the left wing, cut to the net untouched and slid the puck past goaltender Paul Mammola (15 saves) for the 1-0 Falcon lead. It was an unpleasant beginning to the first career start for the sophomore goaltender.
At exactly the 10-minute mark, Bentley sustained a major blow, though, when Paul Markarian was whistled for a 5-minute major for hitting from behind and given a game misconduct. Lowell, though, was unable to muster any offense with the man advantage.
“Coming into the game our plan was to not take penalties,” said Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist, an alum of the Falcon program who admitted after the game the pride he had to see the Bentley program play its first ever game against a Hockey East club. “For us to kill that five-minute penalty did spark us and helped us carry the first period of play.”
At 16:06, the River Hawks finally did get onto the board. Rookie Jason Tejchma dug a loose puck out of a scrum in front of the Bentley bench and outhustled the Falcon defenders, moving in alone on goaltender Simon St. Pierre (28 saves). One-handed, Tejchma slid the puck five-hole to even the score.
Before the period was over, a second major and game misconduct for hitting for behind was whistled, this time to Lowell’s Peter Hanlon at 17:14. The power play spanned through the end of the first and into the second, and when the River Hawks were able to kill it, the game changed dramatically.
After a balanced opening period, the second frame belonged to Lowell. The River Hawks scored four times, three of them coming in a 5:25 span, and outshot Bentley, 13-2, in the period.
“In the second period, I felt like we forgot about what [was successful] in the first period,” said Soderquist. “We thought we had arrived and suddenly could play with [Lowell] and that translated to us thinking we can carrying the puck and screw around.”
For Lowell, that translated to pure offense. It began as sophomore Kim Brandvold notched his first career goal at 6:52, wristing a shot through traffic from the left point. Four minutes later, rookie Rene Gauthier notched his second of the season, firing home the rebound of a Mark Pandolfo shot.
At 12:17, freshman Josh Notini joined Brandvold for his first career marker, blasting a slap shot top corner. And in the closing seconds of the middle frame, Elias Godoy scored his fifth of the season on the power play to give the River Hawks a commanding 5-1 lead through two.
Bentley played a stronger third period and put forth a much better effort. Captain Joe Lovell scored the only goal of the period to pull the Falcons to within 5-2, but that was as close as Bentley could get.
For Bentley, the entire evening was a learning experience, one that Soderquist was mostly happy with and was proud to be part of.
“To see us come as far as we have [from being a Division II] school and to be able to come here and play a Hockey East team is huge,” said Soderquist.
The win improves Lowell’s record to 4-3-2, while Bentley drops to 1-6-1. Each team returns to conference play this weekend with Bentley hosting Canisius for a two-game series, while Lowell travels to No. 4 Maine for a single game Sunday afternoon.