STORRS, Conn. — If Massachusetts-Lowell had any worries about opening the second half against Rensselaer, they were put to rest quickly.
After all, for an RPI team that won just three games in the season’s first two months, beating No. 17 Lowell Thursday in the opener of the UConn Hockey Classic at the Freitas Ice Forum would be the perfect start to the second half.
But with their last game just under three weeks ago, UMass-Lowell was more concerned with getting themselves back in shape and less with their upset-minded opponent.
That formula worked well, as the Riverhawks scored three first period goals en route a 7-2 win over the Engineers and a spot in the championship game Friday.
“We had two-and-a-half days of practice and that wasn’t long enough to worry about who we were playing,” Lowell head coach Norm Bazin said.
Despite being down 3-0 after one period, RPI had a chance to get back in it when Ryan Haggerty stuffed home a C.J. Lee rebound on the power play at 4:35 in the second. Following that, RPI’s Mark McGowan was denied twice in quick succession down low by the pad of Lowell goalie Doug Carr.
The Riverhawks evaded any danger and squashed any thoughts of an RPI rally when Scott Wilson broke up the ice virtually untested and beat Scott Diebold at 5:05 to make it 4-1.
“When we got that first goal, I though we had a lot of momentum early in the second period,” RPI head coach Seth Appert said. “We had four or five chances to make it 3-2. We make a critical blunder and it was 4-1.”
Lowell scored 43 seconds in when an Engineers turnover led to an unopposed breakaway into the RPI zone. Joseph Pendenza kept the puck himself, shooting it through the legs of Diebold, who was left alone after an RPI defender fell down.
“I just beat him there,” Pendenza said. “I knew coming down that I wanted to go five-hole, so I just got it off as quickly as possible. Coach wanted us to get off to a good start [and] I don’t think he thought we were going to get a goal, but we’ll take it.”
“Sometimes those [early goals] are more of a curse than a comfort,” Bazin said. “It’s always great to score, but it’s the next one that counts the most. Sometimes when you score too quickly, you think it’s going to be easy.”
The Engineers looked sluggish through the opening period, as Diebold made a pad save and watched as the puck sat untouched by his defense, allowing UML’s Derek Arnold to come crashing to the net. RPI survived that lapse, but Lowell went up 2-0 at 11:01 when William Eiserman broke up the right wing and threaded a cross-ice pass to Stephen Buco, who beat Diebold on the opposite post.
With Tyler Brickler in the box for elbowing, Lowell exploited a sloppy RPI power play to close the first period scoring. A turnover high the offensive zone led to a two-on-two rush for the Riverhawks and instead of dumping the puck, David Vallorani kept it, deked past the RPI skaters, and cut to the right post before backhanding it past Diebold at 13:38.
With three points on the night, Vallorani hit the 100-point mark for his UML career.
“Those second and third goals were disappointing because those were things that we showed on tape and talked about what Lowell likes to do,” Appert said. “The like to play you one-on-one and throw some cross-ice delay plays.”
Lowell capped the second period with another breakaway goal when Wilson beat Diebold at 10:50.
“We put our freshman goalie in a real tough spot tonight,” Appert said.
The loss came despite a new-look lineup for RPI, one that saw the return of Matt Neal and Ryan Haggerty.
Terrence Wallin and Pendenza added third-period goals for the Riverhawks, while Zach Schroeder scored RPI’s second and final goal at 16:46. Pendenza’s score came on a power play at 19:50.
Carr finished with 23 saves, while Diebold had 17 for the Engineers.
The Riverhawks (11-5) will face the winner of the Army and Connecticut game tomorrow at 7:15 p.m., while RPI (3-14) will take on the loser at 4 p.m.