UNH men’s hockey: UMass Lowell spoils Senior Night, drops Wildcats to No. 9 in Hockey East Tournament



Joshua Shaw, Sports Writer

DURHAM, N.H. — The University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (14-18-1, 8-15-1) men’s hockey entered this weekend in a comfortable bind.  

On the one hand, a berth in the Hockey East Tournament is a given. The worst they could finish was ninth. On the other hand, with a win and two Boston College (14-17-5, 9-12-3) losses, they could host the Eagles, where they’ve played favorably.                     

With Friday’s loss against the UMass Lowell River Hawks (20-9-3, 15-8-1) and the Eagles’ win, the bind resolved itself before Saturday could arrive.  

Throughout the first two periods of Friday’s opener against Lowell, a rhythm emerged. The River Hawks found their footing, scoring the first goal of the night courtesy of junior Andre Lee. The Los Angeles Kings prospect pocketed the puck into the net like pool maestro Efran Reyes. Then the Wildcats found theirs.  

More defining than the rhythm of the game thus far was the refereeing. Time after time, Lowell senior goaltender Owen Savory collided with his goalposts, prompting the net to dislodge. The first time it seemed like an inopportune coincidence for the Wildcats, who had a great opportunity before the net dislodged.  

Then it happened again. This time when the Wildcats had a two-on-one opportunity. Suddenly the tenor of the crowd shifted into obscenities towards both Savory and the officials. That tenor only grew louder as the first went on.  

With 1:34 remaining in the first period and the ‘Cats on the power play, first-year forward Robert Cronin crammed himself in front of Savory’s net. In the scrum, UNH found the puck and popped it in the back of the net. Before the horn could light up, a referee’s whistle rang throughout the Whittemore Center. No goal. Savory had control.  

The senior failed to maintain his body control as the game went on. Purposefully or inadvertently, the goaltender dislodged his net again. And again, doing so each time UNH came close to a chance. With each collision, plausible deniability shrunk for everyone in the stands. But not for the referees on the ice who failed to call a penalty on the goaltender.   

“I just saw the net come off very easily, and it’s tough when the net isn’t secured well. Probably something [UNH] needs to look into,” Lowell head coach Norm Bazin said.  

The fifth time around, the referees used their whistles, declaring delay of game on the senior goaltender in what could’ve been the turning point. By that time, it was only 4-3. After everything, the Wildcats still had a chance. All they had to do was take advantage of the call.  

As UNH star first-year defender Colton Huard attempted to. The defender prepared to use his howitzer of a wrist to wrench the lead away from Lowell.  

However, Huard’s stick only touched the ice. After a slight scrum, Lowell senior Lucas Condotta came away with the puck and a clean sheet of ice ahead of him. Fellow senior Reid Stefanson kept pace. As the two entered the ‘Cats defensive zone, Condotta passed it to Stefanson while he drifted towards the right and waited for the puck. Stefanson timed it perfectly. Condotta dropped to a knee and drove the puck past UNH senior goaltender Mike Robinson for a short-handed goal.  

While UNH head coach Mike Souza acknowledged the penalties, he didn’t feel they swung the game, nor did he think the crew did a poor job.  

“I had no issues with the officials. I think those are two the best officials in the Hockey East [Geoffrey Miller and Jeremy Tuftsof]. So I had no issues with the officials at all,” Souza said. “If you start worrying about the officials, you’re worrying about the wrong things.”  

Everything fell apart afterward. UNH surrendered two penalties, chewing up four of the last nine minutes down a player before allowing an empty-netter.  

Games like these are becoming the norm for the Wildcats. Over their last five games, they’ve allowed 17 goals which comes as a shock for a team that once reached defensive heights that brought them close to the top of the country.  

Senior captain Will MacKinnon still believes the team can reach those heights with the Hockey East playoffs looming.  

“I think to be blunt, we’re taking bad reads on the D core. On the back end, we’re giving up odd-man rushes way too often, and it’s ending up in the back of our net,” MacKinnon said. “I think the fix is easy. I think we’ve just got to be smarter with our reads and not go unless we’ve got support.”  

The gravity of the loss is felt especially by MacKinnon. Friday was the final game on the ice he’s called home these last four years, something he’s still grappling with.  

“It hit me on the ice out there. I saw the scoreboard, and [BC] was winning. So I kind of had a gut feeling,” MacKinnon said. “I’m definitely going to miss [the Whitt]. It’s a really special place to play.” 

Saturday night brought more Senior Night festivities, only this time they were for the River Hawks. Yet Lowell junior forward Carl Berglund led the way.  

 Two minutes into the second period, Berglund passed the puck to sophomore defenseman Brehden Engum at the blue-line. As the defenseman’s shot bounced off a UNH player, Berglund scooped the puck in the slot and shot it at the net. By the time UNH junior David Fessenden flashed the leather, the puck was already in the back of the net.  

After a nine-goal outing Friday, Berglund’s score was all that either team could manage Saturday. Fessenden filled in nicely for Robinson, making 28 saves on 29 shots, including a ridiculous save to rob Reid Stefanson on the power play.  

Savory once again got the start for the River Hawks. The senior saved all 23 shots faced for his fifth shutout of the season, tying Northeastern sophomore Devon Levi for most among Hockey East goaltenders.  

It’s a disappointing ending to the regular season for the Wildcats. A week ago, they were the masters of their destiny. They had two home games on the docket with a chance to bolster their odds of hosting a playoff game. Instead, they drop both while Boston College wins their final three to clinch eighth.  

Eight is a painful number. It’s the seed UNH lost, and it’s the number of seasons UNH has now gone without a record above .500.  

The ‘Cats will try to displace their disappointing regular season ending with a run in the Hockey East Tournament. They’ll open the playoffs at the Conte Forum to play Boston College in the Opening Round Wednesday, March 9 with a 7 p.m. puck-drop. 

Photo courtesy of China Wong