MANCHESTER, N.H. -- UMass-Lowell (27-10-2) served notice on Friday: not only do they deserve the Northeast Regional's No. 1 seed, but they are gunning for a spot in the Frozen Four after dismantling a white-hot Wisconsin Badgers squad, 6-1.
Norm Bazin's troops didn't have a huge edge in shots on goal (30 to 28), but they were ruthlessly efficient. Joe Pendenza got the River Hawks on the board just 7:11 into the opening period, firing a dart from the left wing that squeezed under the glove of Wisconsin's Joel Rumpel. The River Hawks doubled up shortly after intermission, when Scott Wilson feathered a deft pass to defender Christian Folin, who immediately snapped a shot that beat Rumpel low on the glove side for a 2-0 lead at 3:12. Lowell's Shayne Thompson delivered the backbreaker at 14:08 of the middle stanza, completing a sensational rush by shoveling a forehand shot past Rumpel an instant before Wisconsin defender Joe Faust sent him crashing into Rumpel, giving Lowell a 3-0 lead. In the third period, Derek Arnold's tap-in of a super Ryan McGrath feed at 13:56, finishing off another Lowell odd-man rush, gave the River Hawks an insurmountable 4-1 lead. Lowell's Adam Chapie added an empty-netter at 19:12, and Ryan McGrath buried a breakaway chance with less than four seconds remaining to finish off the Badgers.
CLUTCH PERFORMANCE: Lowell freshman goaltender Connor Hellebuyck showed the same impressive form that won him MVP honors in the Hockey East playoffs last weekend. While the River Hawks were opportunistic on offense, Hellebuyck repeatedly shut the door on the Badgers with several huge stops to protect Lowell's leads early in the game.
UNSUNG HEROES: Though not flashy, the rugged River Hawks defensive corps, led by Chad Ruhwedel, Joe Houk, Greg Amlong, Zack Kamrass, Jake Suter and Folin, constantly put a body on Wisconsin's forwards, making them pay for any play, and making crisp, clean outlet passes that kept the Badgers on their heels.
TURNING POINTS: Hellebuyck not only made the big saves, but also made timely saves. The first came 17 seconds after Lowell took a 1-0 lead, when Hellebuyck stuffed Badger Joseph Labate's cross-crease bid with his right pad. He stopped Wisconsin's Jefferson Dahl on a penalty shot to preserve that one-goal lead, and then robbed Tyler Barnes on a wraparound bid shortly after Lowell took a 2-0 lead in the second period. Even after Wisconsin finally scored a power-play goal at 8:19 of the third, trimming Lowell's lead to 3-1, Hellebuyck's calm, confident play between the pipes had to demoralize the Badgers.