The UMass Lowell River Hawks don't have anyone in Hockey East's top 10 scorers.
In fact, they don't have anyone in the top 15.
They posted a respectable 14-11-2 conference record, earning a No. 5 seed in the Hockey East Tournament.
That's where they broke out, upsetting the fourth-seeded Vermont Catamounts and finally catching the attention of Hockey East fans.
The win gets the River Hawks to the semifinals for the first time since 2002. Though making the semifinals is a success in and of itself, don't expect UMass Lowell to lie down when it takes on No. 2 Northeastern University.
If the River Hawks are going to win, they'll have to rely on a team game — something they've done all year.
Nobody on the team has 30 points, but eight players have registered 20 or more.
To complement the balanced offensive attack, the River Hawks offer a goalie tandem that is near the top of every statistical category in the league.
The combination has resulted in UMass Lowell quietly posting the third-best goal differential in Hockey East (plus-26).
Fittingly, the top scorers on the team, sophomores Scott Campbell and Maury Edwards, have more assists than they do goals (13-15-28 for Campbell, 11-17-28 for Edwards). Junior defenseman Jeremy Dehner's 22 assists lead the team, while junior forward Kory Falite has the most goals with 14. Forwards David Vallorani, Mike Potacco, Ben Holmstrom and defenseman Nick Schaus round out the team's 20-point scorers, with senior forward Mark Roebothan chipping in with 19 points of his own.
In the net, juniors Nevin Hamilton and Carter Hutton have split time this season almost down to the minute. Hamilton has played in 1,054 minutes while Hutton's manned the crease for 1,044. In that time, each has shined. Hamilton holds the better save percentage (.922 to Hutton's .915) while Hutton has the edge in goals-against average (2.07 to Hamilton's 2.22).
The River Hawks have also benefitted from disciplined play under coach Blaise MacDonald.
The team has the second-fewest penalty minutes in the league (13.3 per game) while owning the most-efficient penalty kill (87.9 percent) and the second-best power play (19.9 percent).
How they got here
When playoff time rolled around, MacDonald stayed with the goaltending formula that got him there, and it paid off. Hutton stopped 27 of 30 shots in an overtime win in Game 1, while Hamilton got the call for Game 2, turning away 22 of 24 shots in a 4-2 series-clinching victory.
Maury Edwards scored the game-winner in overtime in the first game, sending much of the sold-out Gutterson Fieldhouse crowd home with a sour taste in its mouth. The following night, Campbell scored an empty-netter that sent UVM home for good.
How they fared
Northeastern has gotten the better of UMass Lowell this season, winning all three games by a combined score of 10-4. In those games, Huskies goaltender Brad Thiessen withstood an offensive flood, stopping 92 of 96 shots.
The last time the two teams faced in the Hockey East Tournament was 2002, when the River Hawks beat the Huskies to advance to the semifinals.
The Huskies did not end the season as well as they would have liked, going 6-4-2 down the stretch, including a 2-1 loss to UMass Amherst in the opening game of the quarterfinals.
Potential Tournament MVP
Though it's never happened before, Carter Hutton and Nevin Hamilton could earn co-MVP honors. Each has already turned in a solid performance in the quarterfinals. If either Hutton or Hamilton can help beat the Huskies, MacDonald will have to decide to stick with the hot goalie or go with the guy on the bench. That is a predicament MacDonald and the River Hawks likely would welcome.
Photos courtesy of Ken Babbitt/UMass Lowell Athletics
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