By Matt Noonan
BOSTON, Mass. – The UMass Lowell men’s ice hockey team is headed back to the Hockey East Championship.
The River Hawks, who’ll compete for their second consecutive conference title tomorrow evening against either New Hampshire or Providence College, blanked Notre Dame, 4-0, in the Hockey East semifinals on Friday evening at the TD Garden.
“It was a great win,” said UMass Lowell head coach Norm Bazin, who guided the River Hawks to 24-10-4 overall record this season.
“I felt the guys were on cue this morning in the pregame skate and they certainly were. I thought we were sharp, our special teams capitalized and that’s always a big factor.”
Christian Folin provided the River Hawks with the lead for good in the opening session by firing home a pass from A.J. White from the nearside circle, which bounced of Notre Dame’s Kevin Lind’s skate and trickled into the Fighting Irish net at 10:13.
Derek Arnold doubled his team’s advantage roughly three minutes later when he raced down the nearside wing and rifled a shot past Steven Summerhays (18 saves), which provided the River Hawks with a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.
“Notre Dame had a line rush and we were back-checking. Zack Kamrass made a great play standing up with a great stick, a poke check and I was coming back and picked up that puck from Zack and I just went off to the races,” Arnold said of his first period goal, which was his 11th tally of the season. “I saw little daylight, so I went with it.”
UML added to its total by potting two more goals in the second period. Evan Campbell netted a rebound in front of the Notre Dame cage before Kamrass blasted an attempt from the nearside circle. Both goals were power play strikes.
“I thought we capitalized on our chances,” Bazin said. “It’s always important to do that against good competition and in (the) playoffs you don’t get that many opportunities, so when you can capitalize on two power plays and start with a lead that helps.”
According to the Hockey East website, UMass Lowell has registered 31 power play goals on 148 attempts this year, while Notre Dame has stopped 144 of 171 attempts. The Fighting Irish had one power play in this evening’s contest, but was unable to push the puck past UML’s Connor Hellebuyck, who stopped 35 shots and earned his 11th career shutout.
“It’s a great feeling, it’s definitely a milestone in my life and I am very thankful for the opportunity that Lowell’s give me and I don’t think I would be setting any records if it wasn’t for the team I have in front of me too,” said Hellebuyck. “It’s not just me it’s them too.”
With tonight’s setback, Notre Dame falls to 23-14-2 overall. The Fighting Irish are now 0-3 this season against the River Hawks, as they dropped back-to-back contests in Lowell in November.
Notre Dame will most likely continue its 2013-14 campaign next weekend, but won’t know its next foe until the NCAA Division 1 bracket is released on Sunday, March 23.
“It’s not easy getting (to the semifinals),” said Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson. “You have to take advantage of it when you do.
“Getting to the Boston (TD) Garden, it should be everything and that’s what we all should be striving for and having a chance to win in this environment…so when you get here you have to enjoy the experience and take advantage of it.”
UMass Lowell will look to even its conference championship mark at 2-2 tomorrow with a win. They hadn’t won a Hockey East crown until they defeated Jack Parker’s Boston University Terriers last March, 1-0.
“The first time’s hard, but the second time is even harder,” said Arnold, who netted the game-winner last year against the Terriers. “We put ourselves in a position to go after another championship and we’re going to prepare properly tonight and tomorrow and go for that.”