Saturday, December 03, 2011

UNH Still Winless on the Road

LOWELL, MA - Earlier in the week, Coach Umile described UMass-Lowell (UML) as a tough team to play on their home ice at the Tsongas Center. They still are. In front of a near sellout crowd, the Riverhawks outplayed UNH over the first two periods and held on to win 3-2.

Thousands of hockey fans came to Lowell tonight on a mission - to see and touch the Stanley Cup. Arriving two hours before the puck was dropped, legions of Bruins fans, proudly wearing the black, gold and white, stood in a long line to have their picture taken next to Lord Stanley's trophy. Even the blond NHL official, made famous by TV commercials of him carting the Cup through an airport, was on hand. The festive atmosphere was capped off by the singing of the National Anthem by none other than the legendary Bruins icon, Rene Rancourt.

UMass-Lowell entered the game trying to redeem themselves from the 5-0 drubbing at the hands of the Wildcats two Fridays ago. UNH was trying to prove to themselves and the rest of Hockey East that they could finally win a game on the road. UML succeeded. UNH did not.

The first period was marked by the UML forwards using their speed to carry the puck into the UNH zone. Less than 3 minutes into the game, Josh Holmstrom raced deep into the circle to the left of Matt Di Girolamo and snapped off a wrist shot. DiGi made the initial save with his stick but the rebound was quickly batted into the net by an open Stephen Buco. In a play reminiscent of some of the goals given up by UNH in the 7-6 loss to Harvard, the UNH defenders and backchecking forwards appeared to be more focused on the UML shooter and the puck, leaving an open forward loose near the crease.

UNH responded with effective forechecking by both the Pavelski-Borisenok-McCarey and Thrush-Camper-Block lines. Each kept the puck in the UML zone for nearly their entire shift and by the 9:04 mark of the 1st period, UNH was outshooting UML 4-3. Then, midway through the period, Freshman Grayson Downing stole the puck behind the UML net and made a move worthy of a highlight film. Downing spun around low in the circle to the right of UML goalie Doug Carr and made a centering pass to Greg Burke who was wide open to the left of Carr. The assist served as a punctuation mark to the Hockey East Rookie of the Month honor Downing earned for November. He now has 5 goals and 8 assists in his first 14 games in the NCAA.

With about 8 minutes remaining in Period 1, UNH would give up the second goal of the night on a play very similar to the first goal. Chad Ruhwedel took a wrist shot from the point and DiGi made the initial save with his right pad but an unguarded Terrence Wallin poked in the rebound. Once again, the UNH defense appeared to be focused on the shooter leaving a player loose to the right of the net. The period ended with UML outshooting UNH 12-10 and leading 2-1.

During the first half of Period 2, UMass-Lowell continued to carry the puck into the UNH zone with speed and they also moved more freely once in the zone. At the 10:44 mark, a UML player hit the post and UML had extended its lead in shots on goal to 20-13. In an apparent attempt to slow down UML's pace, defensiveman Connor Hardowa crushed a UML player into the halfboards, then John Henrion threw two bodychecks in open ice, and finally Eric Knodel laid a big hit on a UML forward.

Just as UNH was gaining the momentum, they gave up what turned out to be the game-winning goal. The scoring play evolved just like the first two goals only this time the initial shot came from the top of the circle to the right of Di Girolamo. This time it was defenseman Malcolm Lyles who took the initial wrist shot and David Vallorani who was left uncovered to the side of DiGi. Vallorani knocked in the rebound; UML 3, UNH 1. SOG: UML 27, UNH 16.

From the beginning of the 3rd period until the end, UNH played like a top-tier Hockey East team. The forechecking of all four lines was relentless at times. The defensemen were pinching in from the blueline at opportune moments to keep the puck in the UML zone. With about 11 minutes left in the period, Trevor van Riemsdyk again demonstrated what a gifted passer he is. One stride before leaving the UNH zone, TvR threaded the needle through center ice to John Henrion who was parked just outside the UML zone. Henrion broke in alone and got off a backhand shot, forcing Carr to make the save of the night.

At the 10:20 mark, Freshman Jay Camper - who was in the lineup in place of Jeff Silengo - fired a nice backhand shot. Shortly thereafter, first-year UML Coach, Norm Bazin, called timeout. When play resumed, UNH defenseman Justin Agosta pinched in from the blueline almost to the corner to keep the puck in play. He then made a tape-to-tape pass to Mike Borisenok in the top of the slot. Borisenok's one-timer made it 3-2 in favor of UML.

With 7:54 left in the game, UML was outshooting UNH 34-24. For the remainder of the period, UNH outshot UML 11-0 and nearly tied it up a few times. UNH went on the power play at 12:06, effectively moved the puck, and Kevin Goumas managed a couple of close-in shots on goal. During a subsequent power play minutes later, Eric Knodel hit the post with a slap shot from the point. With one minute left in regulation, Coach Umile called timeout and pulled Di Girolamo. UNH then kept the puck in the UML zone and managed another shot on goal but the buzzer sounded.

The rubber game of the UNH-UML series is Saturday night at the Whittemore Center. In order to put themselves in position to return to the NCAA Tournament next spring, UNH will need to correct the nagging, defensive mistakes that have kept their overall record below .500.


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