STORRS, Conn. — Massachusetts-Lowell forward David Vallorani scored his second goal of the game and third of the tournament at 13:01 of overtime as the River Hawks skated past the host Connecticut Huskies, 4-3, to capture the 19th annual UConn Holiday Classic in front of a packed Freitas Ice Pavilion crowd.
Vallorani, who earned tournament MVP honors, skated two-on-two with forward Derek Arnold into the Lowell zone. Arnold fired a low shot that Connecticut goalie Garrett Bartus (39 saves) stopped with his right pad. The rebound, though, bounced directly to Vallorani who calmly deposited it into the empty net to set off the celebration on the Lowell bench.
“It was a great play by Riley Wetmore batting the puck out of the air [in the defensive zone],” said Vallorani. “I just drove hard to the net and [Arnold] just shot for a rebound and I just buried it into the open net.”
The game-winning goal gave Lowell the victory, despite the River Hawks surrendering a 3-0 lead, including a two-goal third period lead. In overtime, Lowell was unable to capitalize on one partial and two full power plays.
That, though, was what Vallorani believes helped propel his team to victory.
“I thought we gained momentum from [the power plays],” said Vallorani. “Their goalie played really well. From the power plays, we just gained momentum and ended up winning in overtime.”
In-season tournament wins haven’t come easy for the River Hawks, which became the first Hockey East team in six attempts to win the UConn tournament. Friday’s tournament victory was just Lowell’s fourth since joining Division I in 1985 and first when defeating a home team since the 1999 Silverado Shootout, when Lowell beat host Minnesota-Duluth, 3-0, in the final.
Lowell head coach Norm Bazin called those stats “interesting” after the game, but also said that tournament wins like Friday’s, particularly when his club faced the adversity of surrendering a lead, could help the team when the postseason rolls around.
“Anytime you can win a trophy, whatever type, it’s very important because when you get to the tournaments at the end of the year, that’s the adversity you face,” said Bazin. “We knew coming in this would be a tough tournament, but all these little things can pay dividends for the future.”
Lowell controlled the offense in the opening 20, outshooting UConn, 12-8, and scoring the frame’s only two goals.
Scott Wilson got Lowell on the board. Josh Holmstrom absorbed a massive hit in the offensive zone that allowed Stephen Buco to get off a shot. Wilson was the man on the doorstep to clean up, poking home the rebound at 14:37.
Vallorani, who scored his 100th and 101st career points in Thursday’s semifinal win over Rensselaer, then scored his first of the game firing the rebound of William Eiserman’s shot home with 1:55 left for a 2-0 Lowell lead.
The second period appeared headed for a stalemate before Lowell scored with 5:50 remaining. Rookie Terrence Wallin netted his fifth goal of the season on a wrap-around, tucking the puck inside the right post for a 3-0 lead.
UConn, though, got the goal back late on a power-play goal at 18:26. Junior Sean Ambrosie one-timed a centering pass that broke off Lowell goaltender Doug Carr’s (26 saves) glove and landed in the net to cut the River Hawks lead to 3-1.
The Huskies rode that momentum and tied things quickly in the third. After Miles Winter was stopped on a breakaway, Cody Sharib poked home the rebound at 1:47. Stephen Buco was whistled for hooking on the same play, giving UConn the power play.
Just 11 seconds later, the game was tied. Billy Latta’s shot from the point floated through a screen, bounced off a Lowell defender and eluded Carr, knotting the game at 3.
While UConn maintained momentum and peppered the Lowell net through the third, it was the River Hawks that had the best chances to end the game. With 1:12 left, Winter was called for tripping, giving Lowell the power play. The River Hawks had ample chances to end the game, the best on Arnold’s wrister from the slot on a rebound that Bartus barely steered and a Wetmore shot that hit the side of the twine wide to send the game to overtime.
In the extra session, Lowell was unable to score on the carryover power play and two additional man advantages. UConn had its chances, twice skating 2-on-1. Once Ambrosie was stopped by Carr, while Wetmore broke up the second bid.
In all, UConn stopped Lowell on seven power-play attempts.
Despite the loss, UConn head coach Bruce Marshall was positive about his team’s performance.
“We’re disappointed we came up short,” said Marshall, whose club had beaten Lowell earlier this year in overtime. “But I feel good about this team and the steps we’re taking. We’re heading in the right direction.”