As the University of Vermont Catamounts and the University of Massachusetts Lowell River Hawks took to the ice at TD Garden for their semifinal bid in a one and done chance to play on Saturday for the Hockey East Championship, nothing of the regular season or of the earlier rounds of the playoffs mattered. Both teams stepped on the ice in a fight for their life and it looked at first as though the Catamounts had come to play.

During the first period the Cats were winning at the faceoff dot and in the shots on goal, though most of the action was the north and south play as both teams struggled to solve the opposing goalie. Vermont managed to do it, though it did look as though the River Hawks were interfered with, at 11:42 of the first off the stick of Kevin Irwin. It was his eighth of the season and an even strength goal.

Unfortunately for the Cats just 16 seconds later freshman Jarrid Privitera, an alumnus of the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints took a hooking penalty. This was followed just nine seconds later by his teammate Brendan Bradley joining him in the box, also on a hooking call. The River Hawks were on a five-on-three opportunity that took them just 11 seconds to capitalize on.

Though it wasn’t apparent as the first period wound down, as the teams returned for the second period, it was clear that UMass Lowell was now in control of the ice. Despite Vermont’s ability to kill off the remainder of Brady Shaw’s kneeing penalty at 18:37 of the first that carried into the second, the River Hawks had momentum as they continued to pepper Brody Hoffman with shots, outshooting the Cats. What was perhaps perplexing about Lowell’s ability to control the puck was the fact that they were continuing to lose in the faceoffs. By the end of the second period Vermont was 27-16 on the faceoff.

Just as it looked as though the teams would finish the second period still knotted at one, River Hawks freshman Michael Louria got one past Hoffman with just 3:50 remaining in the period. And it was clear that the confidence of the Cats had been shaken to a degree.

The third period continued to see Vermont winning at the faceoff, yet their decisions with the puck became less certain and the River Hawks took advantage of this. Couple that with the fact that the Cats just couldn’t find any puck luck—bouncing the puck off a couple of posts and struggling with some turnovers—and it was perhaps anticipated that Lowell would find a way to capitalize.

Terrence Wallin, a senior from Yardley, Pennsylvania gave his team a cushion as he got the third goal for the River Hawks at 8:46 of the third, assisted by Michael Colantone. And despite the Cats once again outshooting the Lowell, their shots just couldn’t solve Kevin Boyle.

Cats head coach Kevin Sneddon elected to pull his goalie with more than two minutes remaining in the game in an attempt to cut Lowell’s lead in half. The River Hawks are kept out for more than a minute after Hoffman vacates the net, but Joe Gambardella gets that empty netter to ensure that his River Hawks would indeed get the opportunity to play in the championship game for the third year in a row and only the fifth time in their program’s history.

On Thursday evening, as the Hockey East awards were being announced along with the two All Star teams, not a single River Hawk was among those recognized. And oversight? It may be the result of an intense “team” approach to the game. During Friday night’s game a total of nine different players each got a point in the four goals for the River Hawks.

Post game, Wallin talked about the culture of his team, which could explain why they play so well together.

“The culture is on and off the ice just hard work. I think we’re all humble guys. We all work hard,” Wallin explained. “We put in a lot of extra work before practice, after practice, in the mornings. I think it’s just kind of a dog mentality, have an underdog mentality.”

This explains why they work so well together on the ice, but it could also explain why individual players get overlooked when it comes to awards. However, most hockey players will tell you that they would rather have a team win, especially something like a championship, than to have individual accolades. It is one of the only sports where you here more “we” than “I” in interviews.

Saturday night the River Hawks will take on the Boston University Terriers in their bid to become only the second team in Hockey East history to win three consecutive championships. Boston College, who did not make it out of the preliminary rounds, is the other team. They accomplished this feat during the 2010 to 2012 seasons.

A family historian by profession, Rhonda R. McClure has loved hockey since she was a child in New Hampshire. Any opportunity to combine her love of writing, hockey and research is something she looks forward to with much enthusiasm. She's been accused of seeking out shinny games when there are no other hockey events taking place. She is a member of the Society for International Hockey Research. Follow her on Twitter at @HockeyMaven1917.


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