LOWELL, Mass. – Maine hung onto a 4-3 win over Massachusetts-Lowell on Saturday, bringing an end to a miserable seven-game losing streak. Kyle Williams, a freshman defenseman-turned-forward, scored the winning goal with 8:50 left in the game when he tipped home a Mike Cornell shot from the point.
Lowell (2-4-1, 1-3-1 Hockey East) opened the scoring 10:09 into the game when Derek Arnold redirected a Joseph Pendenza pass. Maine (2-9-0, 1-5-0 HE) scored the next three, though, as Connor Leen, Adam Shemansky and Devin Shore all found the back of the net. The River Hawks came storming back late in the second and got goals from Riley Wetmore and Pendenza to tie the game heading into the third.
What I saw
-Leen showed off some wheels on his goal. He was inside his own blue line, about five feet behind Lowell’s Zack Kamrass, when the two began racing for the loose puck. By the time they entered the Lowell zone, Leen had pulled ahead. He grabbed the puck in the left circle and shot all in one motion, putting it over Doug Carr’s glove and into the top corner. It was both a great hustle play and a great skill play.
-The River Hawks took control of the game after their second goal. They kept the puck in the Maine end for the next two shifts after that, forcing Tim Whitehead to take a timeout in an effort to settle his team down. It didn’t make much of a difference. With the exception of a two-minute penalty kill, Lowell continued to control play for the remainder of the second period and eventually tied the game in the final minute. Whitehead said after the game that the intermission helped stem the tide and give his team a breather.
-There was a giant scrum in the game’s final seconds. With three seconds to go, Wetmore put the puck on net off a faceoff and goalie Martin Ouellette covered. Then mayhem ensued. Maine’s Brice O’Connor crosschecked Scott Wilson in the face, resulting in a game disqualification for O’Connor and a bunch of players exchanging shoves. Once Wilson got up, he skated to the Maine bench and appeared to say something to the Maine coaches. That caused everyone to skate over and see what was going on, which then led to another shoving match. Amazingly, there were no additional penalties and the game eventually ended without further incident. Whitehead said after the game that O’Connor deserved the disqualification and probably would’ve been benched for the next game even if he hadn’t been called for it.
What I thought
-It goes without saying, but the Black Bears desperately needed this win. They had lost seven straight and were in danger of being swept for the fourth straight weekend. They obviously still have a long way to go to become the team they expected to be before the season, but earning a split this weekend provides at least a little reason for optimism. Thankfully for Maine, the bottom seven teams in Hockey East have all been inconsistent. As a result, the Black Bears are only two points out of eighth and within four points of five teams. At the very least, Maine can still be a playoff team this year. That alone won’t make anyone happy, but it’s a starting point.
-Speaking of struggles, the River Hawks continue to look like nothing more than a middle-of-the-pack team. For a team that finished second last season, made it to NCAAs, and returned 78 percent of its scoring, this is just baffling. Tying Vermont at home? Getting swept by Boston College? Splitting a home series against Maine? You can excuse one of those things, maybe two. But not all three. They rank eighth in the conference in both offense and defense, and they have the second-worst penalty kill in the country. For whatever reason, everything that went right last year is going wrong this year (with the exception of goaltending, where Doug Carr has been solid). Because of the aforementioned mediocrity in the bottom half of Hockey East, the River Hawks could absolutely still wind up as a home-ice team. That seemed like a lock before the season, but now it’s clear that they have a lot of work to do to get there.
-It’s a shame that O’Connor took the bad penalty at the end, because he looked like the best player on the ice all night. He was very good at both ends of the ice and finished the game with an assist, a plus-3 rating and four blocks. The assist came on Maine’s third goal, when he made a great interception in the neutral zone and led the rush the other way.
What they said
-Maine coach Tim Whitehead: “It was a hard-fought win obviously. We knew it wasn’t gonna come easy. It’s good to get that weight off our backs. Get a win and start moving forward. … The biggest thing was probably just from the mental toughness standpoint. We fought through a lot of stuff. They came back in the second, and it was good for us to bounce back.”
-Lowell coach Norm Bazin on if he thought the team had improved during its week off leading up to this weekend: “Sure we did. I was pleased with some of the progress in some different areas. Overall, there were some of those areas that showed. But in the end you have to get the result, right? Two one-goal games. Last night we got the result we were looking for. Tonight we didn’t. We just have to be a little bit better.”
-Bazin on what needs to change: “It’s a fine line. They’ve got a good team. Every team in Hockey East is a very good hockey team. There’s a fine line separating teams. I think minimizing your mistakes and managing the puck is a big part of things. And capitalizing on special teams. Special teams plays a huge part in hockey games, and we have to get better in that area.”
-Bazin on if he thought anything before the season suggested that the team would start this slow: “I don’t think anything suggested it. You know what, you go into every season with a blank slate. Even though you had a good season the season before, that doesn’t mean a whole lot. We came into last season coming off a pretty disappointing year. You honestly can’t predict what’ll happen in a hockey season. That’s the exciting part about hockey.”
What else you should know
-Maine’s Joey Diamond, the team’s leading returning scorer, missed the game with an undisclosed injury. He suffered the injury in the first period of Friday’s game and did not return.
-Bazin didn’t say much about whether Wilson was OK after O’Connor’s crosscheck, but Whitehead said it sounded like he didn’t have a concussion.