LOWELL, Mass. — In the end, No. 6 New Hampshire and Massachusetts-Lowell were fit to be tied. Again.
A back-and-forth Hockey East battle between the Wildcats and the River Hawks ended in a 3-3 draw Tuesday evening in front of 2,790 fans at Tsongas Arena, as UNH’s Justin Aikins and Brett Hemingway led all scorers with a goal and an assist each.
It was the third time in a row that New Hampshire (8-2-2, 5-1-1 HE) and UMass-Lowell (4-5-1, 0-5-1 HE) skated to a 3-3 deadlock, after the two teams posted identical scores in a home-and-home series last season, on February 13 and 14. It was also the third time that the two squads skated to a tie at Tsongas, dating back to a 4-4 tie on February 21, 2003.
“It was a good hockey game; both teams battled hard,” said UNH head coach Dick Umile. “I told the team to be disappointed with accepting the tie, and I thought we really battled hard in the last three minutes of the game to pick up an important point.”
“From our perspective, (the tie) was a step in the right direction,” said UML head coach Blaise MacDonald, whose team is still without a win in Hockey East. “We came out and had our worst period of the year, and then the following ten minutes of the second period we played the best ten minutes of the season — the consistency that coaches love. Overall, there’s enough to like and enough to work on.”
New Hampshire’s Sean Collins looked to put an end to an impressive streak that UMass-Lowell had entering the contest, as the River Hawks had scored the game’s first goal in each of their nine outings this season. All alone in front of the UML net, Collins took a feed from behind the cage and shot it quickly, an attempt that would have found its mark if not for great positioning and reaction from UML rookie goaltender Peter Vetri.
The Wildcats found a way to crack the River Hawks’ streak later in the first frame, using their only power play of the period wisely. Moving the puck well across the top of the UML zone, the UNH special teams found Brian Yandle at the point, and his shot found its mark through traffic at 13:00. New Hampshire took the 1-0 advantage into the locker room, with each team collecting six shots in the period.
UMass-Lowell knotted the game at one just over a minute into the second thanks to a great play from Bobby Robins. Collecting a loose puck behind the Wildcat net, Robins spun and headed for the nearest goal post, sliding the puck over the goal line before UNH goaltender Jeff Pietrasiak could close the gap at 1:18, tallying his first goal of the season in the process.
The River Hawks continued to swarm after the score, keeping the Wildcats bottled up in their own zone and generating good scoring opportunities. The tables turned late in the frame, as New Hampshire had its own opportunities, including a great save by Vetri on UNH’s Jacob Micflikier at 16:16. Both teams headed into the second break tied at one.
Danny O’Brien gave UML the lead for the first time in the evening only 13 seconds into the third period, scoring from the right side of the crease for a 2-1 River Hawk advantage.
The Wildcats rebounded from the deficit, scoring twice in the third period to regain the lead. Justin Aikins knotted the game at two at 4:58, taking a pass at the top of the circles and firing a blistering shot past Vetri high. For Aikins, second on the team in scoring last season, the goal was his first marker of the season, coming in the 12th game for UNH.
“Justin could have scored a couple tonight, but it’s good to see one go in for him,” said Umile. “I thought he played very well for us tonight, so it’s good to see him get the goal.”
Brett Hemingway put New Hampshire up 3-2 at 11:38 on a delayed penalty call. With the puck loose in front of the net and Vetri down on the ice, Hemingway collected the rebound and lifted it high.
Lowell stuck with the Wildcats, tying the game late in the third frame on a goal credited to Andrew Martin at 16:40. Jason Tejchma fed Martin from the left side of the ice low in the slot, and Martin made the most of his chance for his fifth goal of the season.
“I don’t know what happened with that play, it was a three-on-three play, but Lowell was throwing it at the net, they were throwing it at the net a lot in the third,” said Umile. “You have to play the bounces, and play tough defense. The puck might have gone off of one of our sticks, but I’m not certain.”
Momentum looked to be in favor of New Hampshire in overtime. Micflikier had the best opportunity to steal the game for the Wildcats, driving the slot with the puck less than a minute in, however spectacular goaltending from Vetri kept Micflikier and UNH out of the net. Vetri made a total of three saves in the overtime period.
Vetri stopped a total of 27 attempts on the evening for the River Hawks, while Pietrasiak made 20 saves. In a relatively penalty-free contest, UNH scored on its only power-play of the evening, while UML was 0-for-3, the second time this season that the River Hawks have been held without a power-play goal.
“It wasn’t from lack of effort, the guys competed hard,” said Umile. “I give Lowell credit for tying it up at the end.”
“It was one of those games where we had to work very hard for our opportunities and our chances,” said MacDonald. “I though our best line was our fourth line tonight. When we struggled, they played very well. Peter Vetri played very well.
“We think that Peter Vetri is going to be a prime-time goaltender for us. It was only his fourth game, and he’s overcome some injuries and illnesses, so he hasn’t been able to get into a rhythm. The team takes away a lot of confidence that this guy can compete against one of the top teams in the country and make the big saves when he has to, and has enough poise to keep the puck from going over the red line that he almost boots in.”
Saturday New Hampshire returns to action at ECACHL member Vermont beginning at 7 p.m., while UMass-Lowell entertains Atlantic Hockey foe Bentley at 2 p.m.