BOSTON — Massachusetts-Lowell received scoring from three different defensemen and rookie netminder Connor Hellebuyck posted his second consecutive shutout as the River Hawks skated past Harvard 5-0 in a rare Monday night affair at Harvard’s Bright Hockey Center.
While the story for Lowell may have been the play of the defenseman in the lineup, for Harvard it was more about the defensemen not in the lineup.
The Crimson was playing on Monday without four players who, according to a report Monday in the Harvard Crimson, the school’s student newspaper, have recently left the team.
The Crimson story includes a quote from goaltender Raphael Girard that speculates defensemen Max Everson, Patrick McNally and Mark Luzar, as well as goaltender Stephan Michalek, who left the team in early November, all departed the for the year because of an academic scandal that rocked the university’s athletic department in late summer.
When asked about the missing players, Harvard coach Ted Donato chose instead to deflect attention to the remaining men on the roster.
“I think our guys felt that the focus was on the guys that were playing,” said Donato. “The margin for error might be a little bit smaller [missing three defensemen], but we can play a lot better.”
With Harvard’s students in a reading period, the band missing and the New England Patriots playing on Monday Night Football, the rink was almost as quiet as its library. That atmosphere – or lack of – suited Lowell well as the River Hawks scored early and used brilliant defense, highlighted by blocked shot after blocked shot and of course, Hellebuyck’s second shutout in three nights.
The Winnipeg Jets’ prospect who just two short years ago was playing high school hockey in Michigan, made 30 saves on the night.
And then, of course, there was the blue line scoring.
Lowell entered the game with just a single goal from a defenseman and finished with three additional. For a team that has struggled to score at times in the first half of the season, it was a welcome sight for UML coach Norm Bazin.
“It seems like when things aren’t going your way, you talk to the team about a lot of stuff,” said Bazin. “We really challenged our defensemen the last few weeks to contribute because we’d had only one goal from the back end the whole season.”
The River Hawks controlled the opening period of play, outshooting the Crimson 15-9. In doing so, Lowell struck twice on a pair of goals by defenseman.
Highly-touted redshirt freshman Dmitry Sinitsyn notched his second goal of the season at 6:01. Sinitsyn gathered the rebound of a blocked shot at the point and immediately fired a wrister through a screen beating Girard (27 saves) for the 1-0 lead.
Just five seconds after Harvard’s Luke Grenier, playing in his 100th career game, was whistled for charging at 15:14, Lowell’s Chad Ruhwedel blasted a slap shot that caromed off Girard’s arm and into the net to give Lowell a two-goal cushion.
In a quiet second period, each team had chances on the power play – Lowell once and the Crimson twice – but neither could convert.
Harvard also couldn’t convert on a carryover power play to begin the third and another opportunity when Shayne Thompson was whistled for slashing at 4:57. That inability for the Crimson opened the door for Lowell to put the game away.
The River Hawks struck three times in the final six minutes. Sophomore blueliner Jake Suter scored his first career goal, one-timing a pass back to the point through a screen at 14:01.
A defensive breakdown late in the game for Harvard led to Scott Wilson skating in alone and firing a shot past Girard to expand the lead to 4-0.
And after Harvard took back-to-back penalties late in regulation, Lowell’s Joseph Pendenza buried the River Hawks second power-play goal of the night to close the scoring.