LOWELL, Mass. — On one of the darker days in Massachusetts-Lowell hockey history, there was a small, though very positive, glimmer of light.
Thanks to a late game goal by Lowell’s Andrew Martin, the River Hawks knocked off Boston University, 2-1, in front of a vocal crowd of 4,113. The victory wins the season series for the River Hawks against the Terriers for only the third time in the 20-year history of Hockey East.
The celebration of the victory for Lowell was short-lived as athletic director Dana Skinner told the team after the game that it would have to forfeit nine games, including five wins, for using an ineligible player (see separate story).
Still, there was plenty for head coach Blaise MacDonald to be positive about, in particular the play of Lowell goaltender John Yaros in Friday’s win.
“Our goaltender made a few big saves when the game was 1-0 to keep the game there,” said MacDonald, an ex-BU assistant coach, who won the season series for the first time since arriving at Lowell three seasons ago, against his ex-mentor, Jack Parker.
Yaros finished the game with 24 saves, 17 of which came from the grade ‘A’ area according to Parker, but none were bigger than the series MacDonald referenced in the second period.
With the score 1-0 in favor of BU, saves on Jekabs Redlihs and Frantisek Skladany allowed Lowell to stay within one and make its comeback. The first stop came on a sliding left pad save on a two-on-one, Brad Zancanaro to Redlihs. Three minutes later, Yaros stopped Skladany’s breakaway when the Terrier senior tried to shoot five-hole with Yaros quickly closing the opening.
“That’s naturally my style,” said Yaros of the five-hole that appeared wide open but quickly closed. “As far as I’m concerned, guys can put it there all day.”
Yaros, a transfer from Army, was seeing only his fourth start of the season for Lowell. After having to redshirt for one year, he wasn’t expected to play until after the Christmas break, but that was set back further when the young tender developed first mononucleosis and then kidney stones.
“The diseases were what I was most worried about,” said Yaros when asked if he feels like he’s back in the flow of game play after sitting out so long. “I was in good shape in practice and feeling good, but those ailments set me back a little further.”
Yaros, though, certainly looks back in game shape, though, much to the dismay of BU head coach Jack Parker.
“We had opportunities in front of their goalie and we simply didn’t score,” said Parker, whose club has now scored just two goals in as many games, after stealing a 1-0 victory a week ago at home versus Maine.
“If you get only one goal, you’re not going to beat many teams in this league.”
The opening period saw Lowell control the play territorially, though held only a marginal 6-4 lead in shots. On top, it was the Terriers that ended up striking first blood on its only quality scoring chance of the period.
With 2:45 remaining in the first, BU’s Sean Sullivan took a slap shot from the top of the faceoff circle. His bid sailed wide of the net, but the rebound bounced directly to a wide open Brian McConnell, who quickly fed the puck across the goal mouth where David Van der Gulik deposited the puck into the open net, giving the Terriers a 1-0 lead heading to the second.
The middle frame saw BU’s offense come to life a bit, leaving it to Yaros to certainly change the tide.
The series of saves he made at the midway portion of the period seemed to jumpstart the Lowell offense once again, and at 15:23, the River Hawks tied the game. Cleve Kinley sent a 100-foot homerun ball from in front of his own net to Elias Godoy at the Lowell offensive blueline. Godoy neatly tipped the pass to a streaking Jason Tejchma while, at the same time, picking the BU defender to send Tejchma in alone. Once BU goaltender Sean Fields (23 saves) was down, Tejchma lifted the shot over him to even the game heading into the third period.
Throughout the third period, Yaros continued to stonewall the Terriers, stopping David Klema and Skladany again on separate bids in the slot. Giving his club a chance to steal a win, Yaros’ River Hawks did just that.
With 6:45 remaining and Lowell cycling the puck in the offensive zone, Kinley wristed a shot that looked innocent, until Martin deflected the puck just about the same time that Fields was bumped by his defenseman and fell down. The puck found its way under the crossbar and a helpless Fields could do little to understand what had just happened.
“It appeared as if my defenseman and [Lowell's] forward were both coming out from behind the net,” said Parker, describing what happened to his goaltender. “Fields was trying to concentrate on the shot and got bumped by both guys and got spun around. He was on his side by the time the shot was taken.”
From there it was up to the Lowell defense to clamp down and limit opportunities, and they did exactly that, holding BU without a shot in the game’s closing minutes with Fields pulled for the extra attacker.
“We were just kind of hanging around, playing well without the puck, waiting to capitalize, if and when we had the opportunity,” said MacDonald, “and it was nice to see Andrew Martin able to deposit that puck.”
Any win is big in league play, but Lowell’s win Friday became extra important after it announced that it would be giving back six points via the forfeits. At the end of the night, though, Lowell’s position in the league is unchanged. Before the forfeits and before the BU game, Lowell stood in
fifth place. After beating BU, the River Hawks leap frog back over the Terriers and now stand tied for fifth with Merrimack, a school that benefited from one of Lowell’s forfeit losses.
BU, on the other hand, picked a pretty tough time to drop a game heading into Monday’s semifinals of the 52nd annual Beanpot tournament. That, though, doesn’t faze Parker.
“The Beanpot is a different thing,” said Parker, who almost simultaneously to making that statement was notified of Lowell’s forfeits. “[Tonight's loss] just takes a big step back as far as our standings in the league are concerned. But Northeastern (BU’s first round Beanpot opponent) lost last night so it doesn’t hurt us as far as the Beanpot is concerned.”
NOTES: Lowell picked Friday night’s game to hold a fundraiser for ex-River Hawk player and coach Norm Bazin, who was seriously injured in an automobile accident recently. Bazin, now an assistant coach at Colorado College, and his family will receive $7,700 that was raised through donations and a silent auction.