OMAHA, Neb. — Blaise MacDonald and his UMass-Lowell hockey team had never visited Omaha prior to this weekends Icebreaker Tournament, but the coach is already beginning to enjoy the change of scenery.
MacDonalds troops hadnt won a season-opener since beating Niagara in overtime to start the 2004-05 campaign, but a goal and two assists from senior winger Kory Falite helped to break UMLs streak on Friday afternoon in the 11th-ranked River Hawks 3-0 win over St. Lawrence at Qwest Center Omaha.
The River Hawks first had to weather an offensive firestorm from the Saints in which the ECAC Hockey member struck iron five times, but UML was deadly on the counter-attack, and MacDonalds men made sure to capitalize on the Saints seldom mistakes.
I think good teams find ways to win, and we played a very good team in St. Lawrence, MacDonald said. They showed a lot of tenacity on the puck, a lot of determination and good poise, but we were eventually able to get our legs underneath us.
Indeed, the Saints forced UML goaltender Carter Hutton into action early and often in Fridays first period, with the senior netminder making 10 of his total 24 saves in the opening frame. An SLU defensive mistake deep in the Saints zone just under eight minutes into the period, however, led to the River Hawks taking what appeared at the time to be a surprise 1-0 lead.
UML was already in the middle of a power play when Saints defenseman Jeff Caister intercepted a Lowell centering pass in front of his own goal and tried to clear the zone. Coming in from Caisters blind spot, though, was UML defenseman Maury Edwards, who picked Caisters proverbial pocket before beating SLU goalie Alex Petizian low from close range.
The Saints would try to get back into the game in the second period, outshooting the River Hawks in the middle frame for the second period in succession, but UML hardly needed to rely on good fortune in doubling their lead. Five and a half minutes into the period, UML found itself racing into the SLU zone on a 2-on-1, with Falite setting up Holmstrom to wrist a high shot past
Petizian from between the faceoff circles for a goal scored with inch-perfect execution.
Thats what we were trying to get accomplished, and it was nice to see Ben Holmstrom, who hasnt scored a lot of goals for us, do something like that, MacDonald said about his captains goal. He looked like (former NHL great) Mike Bossy on that one, so that was a terrific play.
The River Hawks second goal was a microcosm of their opponents afternoon up to then: The Saints hadnt been gun shy in the offensive zone, but the very few lapses that they suffered down at the other end of the ice hurt them dearly, and Edwardss goal to make it 2-0 was a prime example.
The longer the time went on and we had nothing on the scoreboard to show for ourselves, we got further away from what we had been doing well (in the beginning), SLU coach Joe Marsh said. We didnt stick for the full 60 minutes to what I wanted to see them do, and while I liked our energy, we werent able to do much with it.
Hutton and Falite both came through big for UML, though, and an empty-netter from Falite with 31 seconds left in the game, while harsh on SLU, was no less than Falite ” or his team ” deserved.
I thought we stuck to our systems well, and we had to play pretty hard in the first two periods, but I thought it really paid off for us, Falite said. Were happy with our effort, and were playing for a championship tomorrow, which will be nice, and well be hoping to replicate that effort then.
The River Hawks will try to capture its first-ever Icebreaker title against host side Nebraska-Omaha on Saturday night at Qwest Center Omaha, with SLU facing Army for third place earlier in the evenings early game.