LOWELL, Mass. — If getting an “A” for effort is still an accepted axiom when it comes to a hard-fought endeavor, then Massachusetts-Lowell would have received a grade of A++ on Thursday night.
Senior Cleve Kinley’s second goal of the season was all Lowell needed, as the River Hawks turned in a tough, grinding effort in beating Northeastern, 1-0, at the Tsongas Arena.
Lowell’s all-around play was 180 degrees better than the last time it played host to Northeastern less than three weeks earlier, when the Huskies stomped the River Hawks, 6-2.
From the drop of the puck, Lowell had all the energy on the ice, playing an in-your-face style that limited Northeastern to just 10 shots on goal for the entire game.
Northeastern dropped to 10-14-4, 7-11-4 Hockey East with their second straight shutout loss. The Huskies have scored only two goals in their last four games (1-3).
“I don’t even want to go there,” said a visibly upset Greg Cronin, coach of the Huskies, when asked if he thought his team was still stinging from being shut out in their previous game just three days earlier, 4-0, to Boston University in the first round of the Beanpot tournament.
“This was a playoff-type of game. Unfortunately, it was an ugly game for us. Lowell had more jump, more enthusiasm. We must have had 10 shots blocked.
“Unfortunately for us, our best player was our goalie.”
Were you pleased with the effort of any of your other players tonight, Coach?
End of interview.
With the victory, Lowell improved to 5-19-6 overall, 4-14-3 in Hockey East. After a stretch where they went winless in 20 straight games (0-17-3), the River Hawks now have a modest three-game unbeaten streak (2-0-1).
And what seemed like an impossibility just a week ago is now within reach: a berth in the Hockey East playoffs. Lowell is now just two points behind Providence for the eighth and final Hockey East playoff spot, although the Friars have two games in hand.
“I thought we played very well from start to finish. We had a lot of guys step up. Cleve and (goalie) Nevin Hamilton played spectacularly,” said UML coach Blaise MacDonald.
In the first period, it was fellow freshman netminder Brad Thiessen of Northeastern who kept his team in the game with a couple of brilliant point-blank, stacked-pad stops, first off the stick of freshman Chris Auger, and then just seconds later stonewalling freshman Kory Falite to close the period at 0-0.
Lowell didn’t let up during the second period, either. Falite went in on a two-on-one break with freshman Steve Capraro, but couldn’t get the shot off against Thiessen. Later, captains Jason Tejchma and Jeremy Hall also skated in on an odd-man rush, only to see Thiessen close the pads once again.
It was Hamilton’s turn to return the favor, making a huge save on sophomore Joe Vitale’s shot with just 3.9 seconds left in the middle period.
“It was an easy game for me. The credit goes to my teammates for all the blocked shots,” said Hamilton. “I made 10 saves, they made at least 20.”
Finally, at 1:16 of the third period. Kinley followed up his initial shot from the slot and sent the puck past a screened Thiessen for what turned out to be the game-winning goal, with assists to Auger and freshman Jason Bergeron.
“The last four games, he (Kinley) has been a dominant player for us,” said MacDonald.
Later in the period, NU’s Dennis McCauley of nearby Billerica, Mass., had the best chance to tie it on the power play, but his shot went wide.
Vitale also had a chance in the waning moments of the game and with an extra attacker on for the Huskies, but he was thwarted by Hamilton.
Massachusetts-Lowell finished with 27 shots on a beleaguered Thiessen.
Lowell next plays at home against Merrimack on February 16 at 7 p.m., while Northeastern plays Harvard in the consolation game of the Beanpot at 5 p.m. at the TD Banknorth Garden.