LOWELL, Mass. — For the Brown Bears, a couple of story lines have remained consistent.
One has been the play of goaltender Yann Danis. The second has been their recent dominance of the Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks.
Saturday night, both of those continued to hold.
Thanks to a stellar 27-save performance by Danis, including three point-blank saves in the closing minute while nursing a one-goal lead, Brown survived the ‘Hawks for a 3-2 victory. The win was the fifth straight game without a loss for the Bears against Lowell (4-0-1), dating back to November 30, 1995 when Lowell won 6-3.
The Brown victory came from a gritty, hard-hitting and hard-fought effort. The Bears were opportunistic in a game that saw them limited in terms of grade-’A’ scoring chances.
Said Lowell head coach Blaise MacDonald, “Brown has two chances at the goal mouth to bang home loose pucks and they end up with two goals. We had about six and came up empty.”
Brown jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first period, making the mountain in front of Lowell, particularly facing Danis, look daunting.
“We put ourselves in a tough position spotting them a 2-0 lead,” said MacDonald, “especially given the fact that they have one of the best goalies in the country.”
Brown’s Chris Swon got the Bears on the board at 5:06 of the first. After Shane Mudryk sent a shot in on Lowell goalie Chris Davidson (21 saves), Swon persistently banged at the loose rebound until it finally snuck under the Lowell ‘tender and into the corner of the net.
The Bears extended the lead at 15:09. When Davidson attempted to cover a loose puck in front, his own defenseman knocked it loose and onto the stick of Nick Ringstad. He had only to push the puck into the empty net to give the visitors a two-goal lead.
But with mountains in front, Lowell began to climb back. After pressuring and peppering Danis late in the first, forcing the Hobey Baker candidate to make spectacular saves on Jason Tejchma and Bobby Robbins, the River Hawks finally broke through.
Off an offensive zone draw to Danis’ right, Elias Godoy won a draw directly to Mark Pandolfo. The sophomore, who played one of his best games of the season, blasted the puck past Danis to pull Lowell within a goal heading to the second.
The River Hawks controlled play for much of the second, forcing Danis to continue his frustratingly solid play. Seeing that it would take an NHL-caliber play to beat the senior netminder, Lowell’s Danny O’Brien provided exactly that.
After a turnover by the Brown defense, O’Brien picked up the puck at the left halfboards and looked as if he’d skate behind the net and attempt a wraparound. Instead, O’Brien changed direction on a dime and cut out front, catching Danis off-guard long enough to bury the puck five-hole and knot the game at two at 14:09.
“That’s something that we work on,” said MacDonald, noting that assistant coach Ken Rausch often works with the players to develop such goal-scoring moves. “Those are the types of goals you have to score against Danis.”
The third period again saw Lowell control play, but Brown saw the best scoring opportunities. The Bears began with a shorthanded breakaway in the opening minute that saw Swon hit the pipe after pulling down Davidson. Midway through the period, though, with another top-notch opportunity, the Bears did not miss.
Swon stole the puck in the right corner from Lowell’s Paul Falco. He made a snap pass to the slot that found Corey Caouette alone in front. His immediate move forced Davidson down and Caouette had the patience to lift the puck over him for the game-winning goal.
Lowell stormed the net in the closing minute and put numerous shots on Danis, but through solid positioning and a little acrobatics, the senior netminder stood tall to hang on for the 3-2 victory.
“I was encouraged at how we battled back,” said MacDonald. “I felt like we were in pretty good shape heading into the third period and then we kind of got outbattled in key areas and made a glaring turnover that resulted in a goal.”
For the Bears, besides extending a near decade-long unbeaten streak against Lowell, the win puts them at 11-5-4 and gives them a solid road win for consideration come NCAA tournament selection time. That, though, is far off for Brown head coach Roger Grillo.
“[The NCAAs] are in the back of our mind,” said Grillo, “but right now we’re really focused on our league.
“We’ve never finished first as a program in our league. That’s where we’ve been since day one and we want to try to stay there.”
The Bears will have a stiff test next weekend when they host Harvard.
Lowell drops to 12-11-3. The ‘Hawks will host Boston University, a 1-0 victor over No. 3 Maine Saturday, next Friday night. The game will be a special benefit game for Colorado College assistant Norm Bazin, an alum and ex-coach of the River Hawks who was seriously injured in a car accident earlier in the season.