When the puck dropped in the first period of the Hockey East Division’s championship game on Saturday, the University of Massachusetts Lowell River Hawks were striving to garner a third consecutive championship. The Boston University Terriers were just happy to be back in the game after a disastrous previous year.
During the semifinal games played on Friday, the Terriers came out a little timid in the first period—something they had done also in the two games they played at TD Garden as part of the Beanpot held earlier this season. Head coach David Quinn commented on this after his team did manage to pull out the win against the University of New Hampshire Wildcats, pointing out that his young team would need to come out stronger in the finals.
The Terriers are the youngest team among all colleges this season. There were eight freshmen, including four defensemen, dressed for the games this past weekend. So it was natural that they may have felt a bit overwhelmed in the first period. Of course, the River Hawks are an advantageous team and certainly did their best to capitalize on such a weakness. The Terriers began the first holding back a little, but within the first five minutes they had swallowed whatever nerves they brought to the ice and were focused on the task at hand.
The Terrier’s first obstacle came when freshman Nikolas Olsson’s goal was disallowed. The Terriers had just gotten on the board from a power play goal by team captain Matt Grzelcyk. The team’s very next shot was Olsson’s goal. It was determined that the play was off sides and the goal was disallowed. However, this didn’t slow down the team. On their very next shot, Jack Eichel put the team up 2-1.
While there was some time in between, predominantly in regard to whistles and video reviews, the Terriers put three consecutive shots on goal and the puck went in on each one. With that, the River Hawks head coach Norm Bazin used his time out to calm his team down and get them refocused, but it was clear that the Terriers believed that it was their game to win or lose and as Quinn explained, that second goal after the disallowed one showed how his team was responding in the game.
“It was huge, because any time you get a two-goal lead in playoff hockey that’s tough to over come at times,” Quinn said post game. “I think it’s a testament to our mental toughness and our resolve. You just, no matter what the call is coming out of the review, you just have to keep playing. You can’t let it affect you emotionally. And we didn’t.”
And even when the River Hawks were able to cut that lead in half on their own power play goal, with just 1:50 remaining in the first, the Terriers came out for the second and kept playing hard. The River Hawks were playing as hard and had a couple more shots on goal by the end of the second period, but it was the Terriers who had the two additional goals—both even-strength. The first of the two goals came just 5:39 into the second period off of Cason Hohmann’s stick. The teams would then spend a lot of time playing north and south hockey before Olsson would get another one past River Hawks goalie Kevin Boyle, and this time it wasn’t disallowed.
It was important for the Terriers to get both of those goals, putting them up 4-1, because the River Hawks refused to go away. They kept pushing back and managed to get a second goal 6:47 into the third, which gave them an added jolt of momentum. Eichel would respond for the Terriers at 14:43 with their fifth and Michael Louria gave the River Hawks their third at 16:52.
River Hawks captain, and senior, Zach Kamrass, spoke to his team’s determination and his feelings on the game and his team’s improvements over his time there.
“We can be proud of everything. It’s been a long four years but I think we left the program…the senior class, I think we left the program better than we found it,” Kamrass said thoughtfully. “A tribute to coaches and everyone that’s come through as well. I want to say I think it’s a household name, especially in Hockey East now. That’s one of the things that as a senior class we wanted to make a staple of. You know UMass Lowell’s… you’re not just going to come into Lowell and have an easy game. It’s going to be a battle.”
And battle his team did as the game continued. He and his team never gave an inch. Everything that the Terriers earned on the ice they had to fight for and work for.
Just as the River Hawks have turned their program around in the last four years, so too the Terriers have turned theirs around tremendously from last season when they struggled in every game.
“We had a good core coming back. We knew that. And we knew with the class coming in we were going to be a much better hockey team,” Quinn said after his team’s championship win. “I know we felt as a staff, that if things went well we could have a chance to win a national title. I know that may have sounded absurd based on what happened last year, but we really felt that and we told the team that. I think after the Michigan-Michigan State weekend they started believing it.”
With the addition of Eichel, who is slated to go second in this summer’s NHL Entry Draft, it is perhaps not a huge surprise that the Terriers have done so well. However, even with a star, it requires a full team to back up a star. Eichel is certainly a talented player; making moves that to those watching the game look much easier than in fact they are.
“[Eichel] has such an ability to separate away from people and he makes it look so easy. And it’s very difficult to get the puck off of him,” Quinn described. “He says things may happen because of a lucky bounce here or there but I’m starting not to believe him. I’m starting to believe it happens because he wants it to happen. He works hard. He defends hard. He’s strong along the walls. He’s ultra competitive.”
Couple that with a team that believes they can go far this season and the determination of their captain, Grzelcyk, and it is no wonder that the Terriers were able to prevent the River Hawks from being only the second team to win the Hockey East championship three consecutive years.