BOSTON — In early December, Massachusetts-Lowell’s record was 4-7-1, and they had scored two goals or less in seven of those 12 games.
Now they’re the hottest team in college hockey.
The No. 15 River Hawks extended the longest active winning streak in D-I hockey Saturday, playing a disciplined road game at No. 9 Boston University. After taking a 4-1 lead early in the third period, Massachusetts-Lowell held off a BU rally to win, 4-3, in front of 4,820 at Agganis Arena.
“We’re certainly excited that the game ended when it did,” Mass-Lowell coach Norm Bazin said, alluding to the fact that BU nearly tied the game while short-handed with about two minutes left when Matt Grzelcyk hit the crossbar, among other chances.
“It was a well-played hockey game,” Bazin added. “We feel that we executed different parts of it; we had a short-handed goal and a power-play goal, so special teams chipped in. I certainly think that we didn’t handle their speed very well. It was a credit to them. We had to watch a whole of lot transition against us for a good part of the night.
Junior Joseph Pendenza led the way with a goal and assist for the visitors, and sophomore Scott Wilson added two assists.
The River Hawks have now outscored opponents by an impressive 34-14 margin during the winning streak.
“You’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts on our team,” Bazin said. “I think we’ve probably got four second lines —- we really don’t have any standout lines, but maybe that’s a good thing, though some nights it’s not. I think we’ve got several people contributing to the team’s success. They’re finally getting a feel for how we have to play to have an opportunity for success.”
BU captain Wade Megan played valiantly in a losing effort, but the real story for the Terriers was the seven power plays they allowed, most notably Garrett Noonan spearing Mass.-Lowell goalie Doug Carr, just when the Terriers looked to have a real shot of tying the game with less than six minutes left.
“We got some things solved tonight,” BU coach Jack Parker said, referring to any number of poor showings that his team has had since Christmas. “But you put your hand on one thing and push it down, and something else ugly pops up. We started to compete as the game progressed. We started to play hard; we started to defend better. And then in the second and third period, we revert back to taking real stupid penalties.
“We took ourselves out of the game over and over again. It’s amazing we were in that game. I just told my team that I can’t explain to them how disappointed I am that we could revert back to being selfish and stupid with those type of penalties. And there were a bunch of them.”
BU took the lead when Ben Rosen backhanded a shot off of goalie Doug Carr and the rebound caromed off the leg of BU freshman Matt Lane and into the net at 5:13 of the first period.
About 10 minutes later, the River Hawks got that one back when Scott Wilson made a great pass from the goal line to Joseph Pendoza at the back door for the tap-in goal.
When Mass.-Lowell earned a five-on-three power play in the second period, it took just nine seconds for them to capitalize. From the right point, Wilson passed to defenseman Chad Ruhwedel at the left point, and the San Diego native’s shot beat BU goalie Matt O’Connor high on the glove side.
It was a frustrating period for the Terriers, who hit the inside of a post twice without scoring, as Ahti Oksanen and Ben Rosen both missed goals by inches.
The River Hawks made it 3-1 on the one bit of officiating all night that infuriated Parker. Alexx Privitera appeared to be hooked in his zone, leading to a turnover and a shot and score for Derek Arnold.
The real backbreaker was a short-handed goal for Mass-Lowell at 5:23. With a BU defenseman attempting to pinch at the point on a power play, the puck got through him, and Adam Chapie raced off for another high shot and score against O’Connor.
At that point, BU really fought hard. Just over a minute later, BU notched a power-play goal, as Privitera set up Evan Rodrigues for a short-side goal.
Less than five minutes after that, BU made it really interesting. Cason Hohmann made a fantastic pass from the left wing circle, a perfectly measured slow cross to an empty space just outside the far corner of the crease. The perfect aim and timing allowed Wade Megan to get to the puck and knock it in.
BU appeared to have an excellent chance to make it 4-4, but Noonan’s five-minute major made it almost impossible. While it was hard to say if it was a definite spear deserving a major, it seemed completely inexcusable for the defenseman to be getting his stick anywhere near the opposing goalie, as the puck was nowhere near him. Noonan received an automatic disqualification and will miss Friday’s game.
Remarkably, BU played incredibly hard while killing that penalty and ended up with at least three good scoring chances while short-handed. Megan tried to put the team on his back, charging around the ice like a runaway train. With 2:02 remaining, Carr was down on side with the upper third of the net open, only to have Grzelcyk glance a shot off the top of the crossbar.
BU (12-9-0, 9-6-0) Hockey East is now 2-4 in its last six games and plays Providence for a home-and-home next weekend, while Mass-Lowell (13-7-1, 7-6-1) plays a pair against Northeastern.