UMass Lowell, winners of four of their last five games, hosted the UMass Minutemen in their only game of the weekend before a sellout crowd of 6369 fans. The River Hawks are getting back to playing the way they did before the Christmas break. They have outscored their opponents by an 18-12 margin in these last five outings. Last weekend, they swept a series up in Durham, NH against the UNH Wildcats taking five out of a possible six points. Three of the River Hawks’ nine goals from that series came off the sticks of defensemen, a trend that has taken place since the calendar turned to 2023. However, the Minutemen have been going in the wrong direction of late, having lost five in a row and being outscored 20-9 in that stretch. Three of those nine goals have come on the power play which ranks 21st in the nation in PPG with 20. This unit also leads the nation in power play percentage at 30.8%. Priority number one for Lowell is to stay out of the penalty box.
The starting goalies for the Friday night battle of Massachusetts were Luke Pavicich for the Minutemen, and for the River Hawks Gustavs Davis Grigals. The chants of “let’s go Lowell” rang through Tsongas Center. It would be the River Hawks that would get the first power play as Minutemen defenseman Ryan Ufko went off for hooking at 1:08 of the first. The River Hawks put two shots on net with nothing to show for it. The best early chance went to the Minutemen as center Lucas Mercuri, off a feed from behind Lowell’s net, put a tester on Grigals that he stopped and tied up for a faceoff. The Minutemen continued to put pressure on the Lowell net with Grigals equal to the task. With 12:49 left, Massachusetts had a 5-3 shot advantage. Lowell’s best chance came off a 2-on-1 with Zach Kaiser getting a shot on net that Pavicich turned aside. With 6:55 left in the period, Lowell got their second power play as Taylor Makar went off for hooking at 13:05. Makar had no choice on the infraction as he stopped another break-in by the River Hawks before the last minute of the period arrived. The Minutemen almost scored the game’s first goal when defenseman, Elliott McDermott’s shot from the right side just missed. The Minutemen received their first power play of the night. Marek Korencik went off for roughing at 19:42. The period ended with the game scoreless and Lowell shorthanded.
The second period began with a carry-over power play of 1:42 for the Minutemen. Massachusetts thought they had the game’s first goal on that PP, but the goal was waved off by the referee and the game continued. The power play did give the visitors some life and Makar was stopped by Grigals along the right wing side on a low shot looking for the five-hole. There was 15:00 left in the period and the game was still searching for its first score. The River Hawks got the game’s first goal on an endzone giveaway by the Minutemen. Dillan Bentley was the recipient and he made no mistake as he ripped one over the shoulder of Pavicich for his second of the year at 8:04. The goal was unassisted. The Minutemen went back on the PPG as Korencik went off for interference at 16:14. Grigals made two big stops early on the PP. First, he stopped Tyson Dick on the doorstep, then a rebound chance by Kenny Connors. The River Hawks’ second line, led by Bentley, buzzed around the Minutemen net but could not get the second goal of the period. With just two seconds left, Matt Koopman came down the right side into the Lowell zone and rang a backhander off the short-side goal post. The period ended with Lowell up 1-0. Lowell is 10-4-0 when scoring first, and they are 9-2-0 when leading after two. Through two periods, Lowell was outshooting Massachusetts 24-23.
Before two minutes were gone, the River Hawks broke into the Minutemen zone with Matt Crasa getting off a good shot on Pavicich from the right wing side that was denied. Cole O’Hara had a chance for Massachusetts that was stopped by Grigals side of the net. Thirteen minutes left and the River Hawks still led 1-0. The game was going up and down with no real scoring threats taking place. With 8:24 still to play, the game was 1-0 River Hawks. Owen Fowler, off a busted play, had two great chances in front of the Minutemen’s net that Pavicich stopped. Less than five minutes left and Massachusetts head coach Greg Carvel had a decision to make. When to pull his goalie. The answer came off a Minutemen timeout with 1:19 left in the game. Lowell (15-9-1, 9-5-1) held off the Minutemen (9-13-3, 3-11-1) and picked up the 1-0 victory. For Grigals, the shutout on 28 saves was his second of the year and the team’s fourth of the year. His record is now 9-5-1.
After the game, Massachusetts coach Greg Carvel thought “this was one of our better games in Tsongas Center” and believed his team came ready to play on Friday night The Minutemen, despite the effort, extended their losing streak to six games. Head coach Norm Bazin said, “This was a hard-fought game.” He liked the third period calling it “our best period.” The River Hawks were good in the faceoff circle on Friday night winning 69% of faceoffs (43-19) while the Minutemen struggled to win only 30%. Lowell also blanked the Minutemen power play (0-for-4) with three shots on goal. Lowell, now winners of three in a row, has the rest of the weekend off. They host Boston College next Friday night.
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