EAST LANSING, Mich. — Compared to the series opener, it took a little longer to settle Saturday night’s game at Munn Arena between Massachusetts-Lowell and Michigan State.
Sophomore goaltender John Yaros was taken for a wild ride in his first game between the pipes in two years as his team managed a 3-2 win, riding a two-goal performance from sophomore forward Ben Walter.
The River Hawks skated with more consistency in Saturday’s contest, but still showed spots that posed problems for them, and eventually let the Spartans back into the game after Lowell jumped out to a two-goal lead.
Unlike Friday night, the River Hawks managed to get the puck deep into the Spartan zone and keep it there long enough to put it behind freshman netminder Dominic Vicari.
In fact, the River Hawks struck first. On the power play, Walter skated into the zone virtually unchallenged and rifled a shot past Vicari to give UMass-Lowell its first goal of the weekend.
Shortly, the ‘Hawks struck again. A scramble in front of the net led to another goal when the puck emerged from a pile and slid under Vicari to give Lowell the two-goal lead, with credit for the wild goal going to freshman forward Ren Gauthier.
Spartan coach Rick Comley called a timeout after the River Hawks scored their second goal to calm his team down.
It worked. Under four minutes later, a wild scramble in front of Yaros resulted in a Spartan power-play goal, with sophomore Colton Fretter diving for the puck in front of the net to jam it behind the Lowell goalie and pull his team within one.
The second period started much as the first had, with the River Hawks threatening early, getting in deep and creating good scoring chances, but the only goal in the second came off a Spartan stick.
The Spartans pulled even four minutes into the second when captain Jim Slater redirected freshman defenseman A.J. Thelen’s cannon shot from the right point past Yaros.
The third was full of up-and-down, end-to-end scoring opportunities for both teams.
But with 2:45 left, the River Hawks said enough was enough, and buried the chance. Walter shot the puck after it landed on his stick off a Spartan defender’s shin, and hit the opening between Vicari’s stick side and the post for the eventual game-winner.
Lowell managed to hold off the Spartans when they pulled Vicari for the extra attacker and salvage a weekend split.
“They just came out so flat,” Comley said of his team. “I thought [the River Hawks] came out better. How you can come out flat when you’re having the season like we’re having, and not have emotion, and not be in the game? I just can’t stand it.
“The lack of emotion just absolutely blows my mind. It’s a 2-2 hockey game in our building going into the third period. You’ve got to find a way to win that game. Feeling bad after a game doesn’t do anybody any good.”
“I thought it was a tightly contested hockey game,” UML coach Blaise MacDonald said. “I felt very good about the first 20 minutes we played, and then we kind of got away from some of the things that gave us success for the next 40 minutes, most importantly turning the puck over and not executing all outlet passes from our defensive zone coverage.
“I was excited that our goaltender, who hasn’t played in two years, played very well and we ultimately found a way to get it done. … Tonight we were playing much better, and we got into a rut where we had to kill off an awful lot of penalties, and that takes you right out of your rhythm.”
The Spartans start a four-game road streak at Bowling Green next weekend, while the River Hawks have a home-and-home series against Merrimack.