LOWELL, Mass. — The No. 9 Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks took the first game of a weekend series against Vermont on Friday night by a final of 3-1.
With the win, the River Hawks improve to 17-7-0 overall and 12-6-0 in Hockey East competition. With Merrimack’s loss to Boston University, and Maine being idle from league play, the win leapfrogs Lowell into third place in the conference.
“It was a big two points against a really good hockey team,” said Mass.-Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “I don’t like to look at [the standings] because your play can get very, very poor when you start focusing on that. I think our focus needs to be on tomorrow night because that’s going to be a great matchup.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the loss drops the Catamounts to 5-19-1 overall and a last place 2-15-1 in conference play. The defeat may have extinguished any chance that Vermont had at claiming the final Hockey East playoff spot.
After a chippy start to the game, it was Catamounts that got on the board first, scoring a little over six minutes into the game. After working the puck into the UML zone, Drew MacKenzie sent the puck along the blue line to his defense partner, Nick Bruneteau, who wristed the puck through traffic and past River Hawk goaltender Doug Carr for his second goal of the season.
Mass.-Lowell came back strong after the goal against, dominating the possession game and outshooting Vermont 15-11. Despite the clear advantage, goaltender Alex Vazzano stood tall in net and kept the River Hawks scoreless through the first period.
Despite being outplayed through most of the first half of the second stanza, the River Hawks were able to level the score at 1-1 on a goal by Joseph Pendenza. Working the puck around behind the net, Terence Wallin was able to get past the goal line and fire a low angle shot on net. The puck was deflected by Matt Ferreira in front of the net to an open Pendzenza, who slammed it home for his eighth tally of the season.
Just five minutes later, Lowell took its first lead of the night on a goal by Riley Wetmore. Skating in three-on-two, Derek Arnold held the puck to allow his teammates to enter the Vermont zone. He then sent the puck down to Scott Wilson along the goal line, who made a perfect pass to Wetmore to give the River Hawks a 2-1 lead. The goal was Wetmore’s first in 13 games.
“It was a bit of a relief for it to go in and get that monkey off my back,” said Wetmore. “It was all about the effort tonight and that paid off for us.”
After an extended delay caused by Wilson being checked through the glass at neutral ice, the River Hawks scored to increase their lead to 3-1. Skating in two-on-one, Wilson sent a pass to Arnold, who quickly sent the puck back to Wilson for an easy tap in.
The two teams skated at a back and forth pace until the last two minutes of the game when Lowell defenseman Chad Ruhwedel was called for tripping at 17:53.
With the power play, Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon elected to pull Vazzano to create a two-man advantage for the final two minutes. While the Catamounts were able to move the puck well with the extra skater, the River Hawks penalty kill came up big, blocking several shots and shutting down any solid chances as time expired.
“I thought it was a good hockey game and I really liked our effort coming out of the gate tonight,” said Sneddon. “There’s two teams out there, we know that momentum’s going to go back and forth, so we need to make sure to minimize our mistakes to have a good game tomorrow.”
Neither team was able to click on the man advantage in two attempts each.
Carr turned away 25 of the 26 shots he face en route to his 16th victory of the season.
At the other end, Vazzano had a strong night in the losing effort, stopping 38 of the 41 pucks sent his way, while falling to 1-4-0 on the year.
The two clubs will battle for the season series tomorrow night at the Tsongas Center.