UMass Lowell Captures Second Straight Hockey East Title With Dominant Showing

connor.hellebuyckFor the second time in as many seasons, the UMass Lowell River Hawks are kings of Hockey East.

The defending conference champions completed a thoroughly dominant weekend at TD Garden on Saturday, blowing out upset-minded New Hampshire by a final score of 4-0 to again take home the Lamoriello Trophy.

The best player on the ice, as has been the case in each of the last two conference tournaments, was UMass Lowell goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, who stopped 30 shots in the shutout. In four career tournament games at TD Garden, the Winnipeg Jets draftee has saved 135 of the 136 shots sent his way, with his last goal against coming in the first period of last year’s semifinal win over Providence.

Hellebuyck was a unanimous selection for the William Flynn All-Tournament MVP Award, becoming the first player in conference history to win the award twice.

“Anytime you have a goaltender like that, he pumps us up,” senior forward Joe Pendenza said. “Just the stops that he makes when we’re in a tough rut. He really pumps us up, gives us confidence back there. Hockey is a game of mistakes, and even though we are going to make a couple of mistakes here and there, we know he’s got our back just like we have his back.”

Not to be overlooked was the work of UMass Lowell’s deep offensive attack led by the top line of Pendenza, fellow senior Josh Holmstrom and sophomore A.J. White. Lowell outscored UNH and Notre Dame 8-0 in the final and semifinal, with a different player scoring each of the eight goals.

The Wildcats’ D-corps actually shut down the River Hawks’ attack for the majority of the first period Saturday, doing a nice job of getting sticks and bodies in front of shots, but goalie Casey DeSmith’s inability to control rebounds allowed White and Pendenza to score the game’s first two goals in rapid succession.

Freshman center Joe Gambardella beat a screened DeSmith at the 3:13 mark of the second for Lowell’s third tally of the night, and junior D-man Jake Suter added an insurance goal on the power play with 1:17 to play in the frame.

“(Depth) has been a point of emphasis since I arrived,” UML head coach Norm Bazin said. “I think to have a great team at Lowell, you have to have multiple threats. We don’t have the 50-to-60-point guy, but what we have an awful lot of of good hockey players. We feel if it can come from any line, it makes us a real threat.”

Pendenza and White both assisted on Suter’s tally to finish with three points apiece. Pendenza came close to inking his name on the scoresheet twice more in the final period, but he had one goal disallowed because of a high stick and was stoned by DeSmith on a penalty-shot attempt.

Pendenza, White and Hellebuyck were all named to the All-Tournament team, along with Lowell defenseman Christian Folin, UNH forward Kevin Goumas and Notre Dame blueliner Stephen Johns.

UMass Lowell now awaits its seeding in the NCAA tournament.

“Now it’s one game and you’re out,” Pendenza said, “so it’s even more important to be playing your best.”

Photo via Twitter/@photog24

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