BOSTON — After bone-chilling temperatures and brittle ice last week, it was a jarring change Saturday at Fenway Park.
At game time, it was 52 degrees outside with a steady drizzle and a persistent wind. That wouldn’t be unusual for a baseball game in early April, but for outdoor hockey in January, it was less than ideal.
Passes were slow and sticky, and icing the puck (at least in the first 40 minutes) was nearly impossible.
Despite the conditions, the lack of odd bounces ironically made the game far more wide open, as No. 16 Northeastern rode two goals from senior Braden Pimm to upend No. 9 Massachusetts-Lowell 4-1.
In the last two weeks, coaches have talked at length about the experience of playing hockey at Fenway Park, but Northeastern coach Jim Madigan added a caveat: “The experience and the memory is lasting — when you win.”
The win was significant for the Huskies, who picked off their second top-20 team in as many games and moved to third in the Hockey East standings.
“We were chasing the game tonight,” said Lowell coach Norm Bazin, who thought his team was more than capable of clawing back. “We came back from a 2-0 deficit to win last weekend and felt like we could have done it again today.”
Clay Witt followed-up Tuesday’s win at No. 6 Providence with another stellar performance, stopping 47 Lowell shots in the victory. Despite an elevated shot total, Witt seemed comfortable in net.
“We’re a team that’s going to give up a lot of shots,” Madigan said. “I don’t get overwhelmed by the number of shots. [Clay] was really tight at his posts and strong in the crease.”
The early going was, as expected, sloppy. It was littered with whiffed shots and loose pucks tantalizingly close to the goal, elevating the shot total in the process.
But as the game continued, the rain subsided and the ice opened up. Given their speed advantage, the Huskies welcomed the opportunities to run, cashing in three times on the back end of transition rushes.
Seven minutes into the second period, Mike Szmatula scooted the puck out of the neutral zone and created a two-on-one rush for linemate Braden Pimm, who faked to Szmatula on his left flank, then ripped it top shelf.
Later, Pimm added an empty-net tally to make it four goals in the last two games.
Pimm’s stellar senior year, and the team’s overall pickup in performance, may be attributable to a change in attitude.
“It all comes down to our mentality,” Pimm said. “We go into games where we don’t get too high, don’t get too low. We have a quiet confidence.”
“As a group, on our approach, we’re all in sync,” Madigan added. “Everyone’s buying into it. There’s no wavering in the locker room and we’re all on the same page together.”
After Northeastern’s Matt Benning picked up the Huskies’ second goal on a rebound from Doug Carr (27 saves), it seemed as if Lowell had stemmed the bleeding, even gaining two power-play opportunities in the latter stages of the period.
But in an unlikely twist, defenseman Josh Manson picked off a pass in the defensive zone and carried the puck coast-to-coast on a short-handed rush, burying the snap shot to give the Huskies a 3-0 lead.
Lowell got a lift in the waning moments of the period as Zack Kamrass set up in the left circle, then rifled the puck under the crossbar to keep the River Hawks’ hopes alive at 3-1.
Yet despite throwing 17 shots on goal in the third period, they were stymied on every single one by Witt, who was unfazed by the wet conditions.
“It was easy to slide around with all the water,” Witt said. “In the first period I was hoping it wouldn’t keep raining, but in the end, it made it much cooler.”
The soggy ice was certainly a challenge, but despite the loss, Pendenza offered up no excuses.
“When I took off my equipment, I felt like I was five pounds heavier due to the water,” Pendenza said. He quickly added, “I should have beared down more.”
Expounding on the rain, Bazin was not pleased. “I can think of four to five opportunities around the net where we fell in the puddle or a pile of slush.
“If I had to do it over again, I wish it was a nonconference game,” Bazin added.