Unbeaten in the last four games (3-0-1), the River Hawks looked to keep things going in the right direction Saturday night as they hosted the University of New Hampshire Wildcats. UNH freshman Cy LeClerc has been on a bit of a goal-scoring surge of late scoring goals in four of his last five games. His total of 12 goals is tied for third in Hockey East. His 18 points have him tied for first in the league. After tying Boston College on Friday night, with the help of a power play that scored twice UMass Lowell was looking to continue their good special teams play.
The starting goalies for Saturday night were Tyler Muszelik for the Wildcats, and for the River Hawks, it was Gustavs Davis Grigals making back-to-back starts this weekend. Early on, the River Hawks had a great chance to get an early lead. Nik Armstrong-Kingkade took a cross-ice pass and broke in all alone on the left wing side only to be stopped by Muszelik. The Wildcats struck first as Leclerc added to his goal-scoring total by crossing the Lowell blue line from right to left and letting go a wrist shot that beat Grigals to the far side. The goal came at 8:08 and was assisted by Jake Dunlap and Luke Reid. For Leclerc, the goal was his 13th of the year. He has now scored in five of his last six games.
The Wildcats were just getting started as they kept the pressure on in the River Hawks zone and added to their lead. A goalmouth scramble led to Damien Carfagna, who out-muscle River Hawks defenders, and put the puck in the back of the net. Assists went to Nikolai Jenson and Steven Skrastins. The goal was Carfagna’s fourth of the year and it came at 12:04. The River Hawks dug themselves a hole that they had forty minutes to climb out of. A bad first period for Lowell came to an end with them down 2-0.
When trailing after the first period, the River Hawks are 2-5-1, UNH is 5-4-0 when scoring first, and 3-1-1 when leading after one period. For the second straight night, Lowell got off to a slow start in the first period. The question was could they come back from it? That comeback could have started on the power play as the River Hawks got the first man-advantage of the game as UNH’s Alex Gagne went off for tripping at 2:02. They cashed in off a faceoff scramble in the offensive end and Carl Berglund ripped one past Wildcats netminder Muszlik at 3:31. The PPG was Berglund’s 9th of the season and was assisted by Ben Meeham and Jon MacDonald.
The lead was now cut in half at 2-1 UNH. The comeback was completed as Scott Thuman, from the top of the fight faceoff circle, scored his seventh of the season at 12:27. Jake Stella and Mitchell Becker were credited with assists. The game was squared at 2-2. Lowell was starting to tilt the ice in their favor, and with 3:39 left had a 24-10 shots advantage. Everything that River Hawks had problems with in the first period they did a better job of in the second. The game was tied at 2-2 as the teams went to the locker room. UNH went shotless in the period.
When tied after two the River Hawks are 3-1-1. UNH, on the other hand, is 2-5-0. The team that handled the last twenty minutes the best would get the win. One minute in, the River Hawks almost had their first lead of the night. A pass across the goal mouth from right to left found Marek Korencik who was stopped on a sliding post-to-post save by Muszelik. Seconds later, the River Hawks took their first lead of the night, as Flip Fornaa Svensson scored his 4th of the year at 1:29 to give his team a 3-2 lead. Jake Stella picked up his second assist of the night as he beat his man down the right wing and made a nifty behind-the-back pass to Svensson who buried it for the leading goal. Brendan Engum picked up the secondary assist.
Lowell now had a lead to protect for the rest of the game. The Wildcats got a much-needed power play as Meeham went off for holding at 6:28. With nine seconds left on the PP, UNH tied the game at 3-3 when off a faceoff in the Lowell zone, Damien Carfagna let go a wrist shot from just inside the blue line that beat Grigals for his second of the night and his fifth of the year. Leclerc got an assist (second point of the night) along with Luke Devlin. The time of the goal was 8:20.
It got better for the visitors as they took the lead back with 6:56 left in the third on a Chase Stevenson goal, his eighth of the year. It came at 13:03 and Sardarian (point #2 on the night) and Connor Lovett had assists. Just 16 seconds later Stevenson struck again. This time crashing the Lowell net and getting his ninth of the year at 13:19. Skrastins had the lone assist.
Lowell had work to do and fast. Jon MacDonald put one home just after a River Hawks PP that got nowhere. For MacDonald, the goal was his third of the year and it came off a goalmouth scramble. Zack Kaiser and Svensson (point #2) had the helpers. The time of the goal was 15:42. Lowell pulled their goalie with 1:18 left. They spent it in the Wildcats’ zone but could not get the tying goal and they fell to UNH by a 5-4 score.
UNH improves to 9-18-1, 4-13-1 with back-to-back wins on the weekend. UMass Lowell falls to 15-10-2, 9-6-2. UNH coach Mike Souza thought “his team found a way to win on Saturday night.” He believed his team was “outplayed for most of the game.” He praised both Stevenson and Carfagan for their play on the night. He thought both came to play and it showed.
River Hawks head coach Norm Bazin thought his team “chased the game too much.” Defensive breakdowns in the third period were a killer for his team. He mentioned how difficult it is to sweep a Hockey East team which Lowell was trying to do on Saturday night. He called the game a three-part contest that was pretty good in the first excellent in the second back and forth third that was ruined by mistakes. The River Hawks will take their lumps from this one and get ready for the Super Bowl Sunday matchup with the Maine Black Bears puck drop at 2 PM.
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