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Lowell hangs on to beat BC and capture 3rd Hockey East championship in 5 years

03.18.17 at 9:41 pm ET
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UMass Lowell captured its third Hockey East title in the last five years Saturday night. (WEEI.com)

UMass Lowell captured its third Hockey East title in the last five years Saturday night. (WEEI.com)

UMass Lowell is back on top of Hockey East. After coming up short in the conference title game each of the previous two seasons, the River Hawks captured their third Hockey East championship in the last five years Saturday night at TD Garden with a 4-3 win over Boston College.

The victory serves as the exclamation point on a remarkable run for a program that was nearly cut just 10 years ago. Since Lowell alum Norm Bazin took over behind the bench in 2011, the River Hawks have made five Hockey East championship games after only reaching two prior to that, they’ve won two regular-season titles after never having won that before, and they reached their first-ever Frozen Four in 2013. Now they’ve won three Hockey East tournaments after never having won it before, and they’re heading to their fifth NCAA tournament in six years after making it just three times pre-Bazin.

Saturday’s championship game looked like it had a chance to be a barn-burner at the first intermission, as Lowell and BC were tied 2-2 after an exciting opening frame. But the River Hawks had other ideas. They took control starting around the middle of the second period, got a two-goal lead before the intermission, and held on to the finish line despite BC’s desperate comeback bid in the third.

After failing to convert on their first two power plays, while also allowing a shorthanded goal, the River Hawks capitalized on their third man advantage at the 10:05 mark of the middle period when John Edwardh followed up a Joe Gambardella shot and flipped the rebound past BC goalie Joseph Woll.

Then Lowell struck again just a minute and a half later when Gambardella settled a puck in the left circle and beat Woll short-side over the shoulder. The Eagles played desperate in the third, as they obviously needed to, and registered 12 of the period’s first 14 shots on goal.

Freshman goalie Tyler Wall made some big saves to maintain the lead (and finished with 38 saves in the game), but BC finally broke through with 2:45 to go when Bruins prospect Ryan Fitzgerald whacked a puck through his legs from the right side of the net that banked off Wall and in.

The Eagles nearly tied the game with 40 seconds to go when Fitzgerald ripped a shot from the point that hit the crossbar and stayed out. That close. But instead of forcing overtime, the Eagles saw their season come to an end, as they are not high enough in the Pairwise rankings to make the NCAA tournament.

Lowell opened the scoring just 1:06 into the game when C.J. Smith collected a bouncing puck in the neutral zone, skated in and sniped the top corner. The River Hawks got a chance to extend the lead a minute later when they went to the power play. They got some good looks and just missed on a couple cross-slot passes that wouldn’t settle, but they couldn’t find a goal.

A minute after Lowell’s man advantage ended, the Eagles went to the power play, and they took advantage just 10 seconds into it when Austin Cangelosi tipped in JD Dudek’s shot from the left point.

The River Hawks started to take a little bit of control through the middle part of the period and nearly made it 2-1 when Michael Kapla rang a shot off the post. They continue to pressure and then did retake the lead at the 12:06 mark when Smith set up Chris Forney for a shot from the point that beat Woll through heavy traffic.

The Eagles had a great chance to tie the game a few minutes later when they ended up with a 5-on-3 for 1:39. They got a couple decent looks, but Lowell managed to get the kill. Then the River Hawks got a power play almost immediately after, and it felt like a major momentum swing was right around the corner.

Instead, things swung in the other direction. BC freshman forward Graham McPhee made a terrific play to poke the puck away from Smith on a breakout, then raced in on a breakaway and beat Tyler Wall on the backhand. It was just the second goal of the season for McPhee, and it was the Eagles’ 11th shorthanded tally of the season, tying them with Harvard for first in the country.

The River Hawks didn’t let the game get away, though. They regrouped at the first intermission and stifled BC in the second while scoring twice themselves. Lowell now waits to find out if it will be a one- or two-seed in the NCAA tournament. That will be decided by other results around the country Saturday night.

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