Massachusetts-Lowell second banana no more

In past years, when Massachusetts-Lowell was very good, some other Hockey East team was just a little bit better.

Not anymore.

2013 Hockey East Championship

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The River Hawks exorcised another demon with a heart-pounding 1-0 win over Boston University in the Hockey East championship game. Coming two weeks after their first-ever regular season crown, the tournament title rendered a clear verdict as to the identity of the league’s best team.

The Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks.

In the words of BU coach Jack Parker: “It’s not BC, it’s not BU, it’s not UNH, it’s not Maine. It’s UMass-Lowell who is the champion.

“They were a terrific team all year long and they really dominated this league in a lot of ways. I thought we gave them one heck of a game tonight, but they had a heck of a year. Winning the league and then winning the playoffs is quite an accomplishment for that program and for [Lowell coach] Norman [Bazin].”

It’s been a long road for a school once known as Lowell Tech and a team that won national championships at the Division II level but had always come just a little short since its move to Division I.

Playing as the Chiefs, they finished second in Hockey East in 1986-87, a distant runner-up to a Boston College team loaded with future NHL stars like Brian Leetch, Craig Janney and Kevin Stevens.

They finished a distant second in the standings again in 1993-94 to a BU team that came within one game of an NCAA title. Two years later, BU again rendered them second fiddle as the defending national champions and en route to another Frozen Four appearance.

Last year, the River Hawks finished second to another dominant team, this time the Boston College Eagles, who went on to win their third national championship in five years.

When it came to the Hockey East tournament, appearances in the title game were even more rare than the regular season. Lowell reached the championship game only twice, in 1994 and 2009, both times losing by a single goal to none other than Boston University.

Bazin experienced the 1994 heartbreak as a player; assistant captain Josh Holmstrom’s brother Ben endured the 1-0 loss in 2009.

“There are a lot of skeptics out there and a lot of detractors who thought that we’d come up short again,” Bazin said after the school’s first Lamoriello Trophy. “I was certainly reminded by our own press people of the number of times we lost in the finals.”

That the win came over a team that had tortured Lowell fans and players over the years made it all the sweeter. BU’s only playoff loss to Lowell had come in the middle game of a 2008 quarterfinal series. Since the Terriers won that series, their playoff record over the Chiefs-turned-River-Hawks might well be considered undefeated.

Until now.

“You always want to win when you play, but it was fitting that we played BU tonight and came out on top,” Bazin said. “I’m excited not only for the guys in that locker room but I’m excited for UMass-Lowell.”

When asked if he’d ever envisioned the sweet win, Derek Arnold, who scored the game-winner on a wraparound with 8:51 remaining, had to shake his head.

“To be honest, no,” he said. “Coming from New England and growing up and seeing BC and BU win it every year, you didn’t see Lowell in there too many times.

“But it’s amazing right now, a remarkable achievement by the group of guys in that room.”

Amazing, indeed. The former Division II power, the former second banana in its good years, proved itself to be Hockey East’s dominating team.

Hail to the Chiefs … turned River Hawks.