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College Hockey: UNH hits a River Hawk roadblock to Frozen Four
University of New Hampshire's Dalton Speelman (10) skates away as UMass Lowell players celebrate their 2-0 win in the NCAA Northeast Regional Final hosted at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester Saturday. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)
Problem for the University of New Hampshire hockey team was, the folks from UMass Lowell led the cheers.
Lowell got some sweet revenge with a 2-0 win over UNH in front of 8,357 on Saturday night and, even more sweetly, secured a berth in the Frozen Four that starts on April 11.
The Wildcats lost in the NCAAs for the fourth straight time in a Regional final and again came up one win shot of making their first Frozen Four since 2003.
"It's disappointing," said UNH senior forward John Henrion. "It's frustrating. We've been here three times in the last four years, twice here, unfortunately in front of our home fans. UMass Lowell is a great hockey team. We knew we had our hands full with them."
UNH finished with a 20-12-7 record and bounced back nicely to make its 11th national tournament appearance in the last 12 years.
The River Hawks, the hottest team in the country, had lost all three games they played against New Hampshire this year and had never been to the championship round of the NCAA Division I tournament.
Thanks to stingy freshman goalie Connor Hellebuyck and a tight defense in front of him, Lowell has become a shutdown team and is moving on.
The River Hawks are 28-10-2 and have won seven straight games and 14 of their last 15 heading to Pittsburgh. They won the Hockey East regular season title, the Hockey East tournament title and now the Regional.
Hellebuyck and the defense have not given up more than a goal in their last five games.
The Wildcats, playing without their two best forwards in injured junior Kevin Goumas and sophomore Grayson Downing, had trouble getting shots, especially high quality opportunities on Helllebuyck and the River Hawks.
"They're a good team," said UNH coach Dick Umile. "They make it tough and they don't let you open it up."
Lowell scored a huge goal in the final minute of the second period. The River Hawks the UNH net and Scott Wilson finally snapped the scoreless tie with 29.7 seconds to go in the frame.
The River Hawks were all over the Wildcats in the final minute. UNH goalie Casey DeSmith, the sophomore from Rochester, stopped an Adam Chapie shot and then another bid. But Wilson and his teammates kept coming and Wilson knocked in a rebound.
"That was a killer," said UNH junior defenseman Justin Agosta.
Much of the hottest action in the first two periods came in the last minute. One of UNH's best scoring chances came with five seconds left in the first period. He loaded up a slap shot from above the right faceoff circle but could not get the puck past Hellebuyck.
Defenseman Eric Knodel had a couple of the best chances. The best may have come with 11 minutes left in the game, a shot from the left point that Hellebuyck got his left skate on.
"It hit the toe of his skate," Knodel said.
Five minutes later, Lowell freshman Adam Chapie came down the left side and got just ahead of UNH defenseman Brett Kostolansky and with a nice move put a backhander over DeSmith's shoulder into the far side of the net.
Goumas and Downing were knocked out of Friday's 5-2 win over Denver with head injuries and were unable to go against UMass Lowell.
"That was not in the game-plan," Henrion said.
Downing left Friday's game after taking a couple of hits in the second period. Goumas was leveled by a Nick Shore check in the first minute of the third period. Shore, picked by the Los Angeles Kings in the third round of the 2011 NHL draft, was called for a five-minute major penalty for contact to the head and given a game misconduct.
Lowell plays Yale, a surprise winner of the West Regional, one Frozen Four semifinal in Pittsburgh on April 11.
The Bulldogs took out a couple of traditional Western Collegiate Hockey Association powers in the West Regional. Yale beat Minnesota scored nine seconds into overtime to stun Minnesota, the No. 1 seed in the regional, in its first game on Friday. The Bulldogs came back to beat No. 2 North Dakota, 4-1, on Saturday, to advance.