Men’s Hockey: Northeastern sweeps series with River Hawks

Men’s Hockey: Northeastern sweeps series with River Hawks

By Matt Nielsen

The men’s hockey team solidified its position in the playoff picture this weekend, beating the UMass-Lowell River Hawks (3-17-5, 2-12-2) in both ends of a home-and-home series, including a 2-1 overtime win Saturday night.

The Huskies (8-11-4, 5-9-4 Hockey East) dominated Friday’s game at Tsongas Arena, winning 6-2 before taking an overtime thriller the following night at Matthews Arena.

Northeastern entered the weekend in seventh place, just one point ahead of Providence College and five points behind Massachusetts in the Hockey East standings. After two wins, the Huskies are now within two points of sixth place.

Senior forward captain Mike Morris returned to the lineup Friday night at Lowell after missing six consecutive games due to injury.

Freshman forward Chad Costello, tied with Morris for the team lead in scoring, hadn’t tallied a single point since Morris’ appendectomy. But it didn’t take long for the two to get reacquainted, as Costello, just 29 seconds into the contest, scored off a rebound in front of the net. Sophomore defenseman Louis Liotti and Morris were both credited with assists, which would become a recurring theme.

Less than a minute later, River Hawks freshman forward Kory Falite scored to tie the game at one, when his shot bounced off freshman goaltender Brad Thiessen’s left pad and into the net.

Morris fed Costello at center ice 10 minutes into the first period. Costello slipped the puck up to freshman forward Kyle Kraemer, who beat UML sophomore goalie Vinny Monaco to put the Huskies up 2-1.

NU went up, 3-1, with only 30 seconds left in the first when freshman forward Randy Guzior scored his fifth goal of the season, with assists from sophomore defenseman Jacques Perreault and freshman forward Greg Costa. The Huskies’ three first period goals were the most the team has scored in the first period since Oct. 21, 2006, a 5-0 victory over Union.

Three minutes into the second period the Huskies struck for the fourth time. Morris once again fed the puck to Costello, who found Kraemer. Kraemer scored his second goal of the game and fifth of the season, putting Northeastern up by three.

Halfway through the second, UML freshman forward Frank Stegnar scored off a rebound to bring the River Hawks back within two. It was Stegnar’s third goal of the season.

The score remained 4-2 for the rest of the second period and most of the third.

With slightly more than a minute remaining, the River Hawks pulled their goaltender in favor of an extra attacker. NU senior forward Bryan Esner stole the puck at center ice and launched it into the empty net for his third goal of the season. Thirty seconds later, Costello scored his eighth goal of the season off a pass from Morris, who collected his fourth assist of the night. Morris and his fellow linemates accounted for 10 points (four goals, six assists).

Thiessen stopped 27 shots for his fifth win of the season.

“We’ve been telling them lately to just play the system,” said head coach Greg Cronin. “Don’t worry about the score, don’t worry about the period. Everybody knows what they’re supposed to be doing out there.”

The teams traveled back to Matthews Arena for the second game of their weekend series Saturday night, but it proved more than a change of venue, as the high-scoring style of hockey played the night before was replaced with a grittier defensive battle.

The first 30 minutes of the contest were marked by big hits and outstanding saves on both sides, and neither team could find the other’s net. The River Hawks eventually broke the deadlock at 12:58 of the second period when junior defenseman Kelly Sullivan scored from the point. After receiving the puck from behind the net, Sullivan shot the puck, which bounced off a player in front and past Thiessen for the first goal of the game and Sullivan’s first of the season.

Fifteen minutes into the third period, it looked as though UML would pull out its first win in more than two months. But freshman goaltender Nevin Hamilton’s pass up the ice was intercepted by Esner, who beat Hamilton unassisted for his second goal of the weekend and fourth of the season. The Huskies grabbed the momentum and created quality scoring opportunities for the rest of regulation, but the game lingered into overtime.

Just a minute into overtime, sophomore forward Joe Vitale brought the puck into River Hawks territory. Vitale moved to Hamilton’s right, bringing UML defensemen with him.

Vitale passed to sophomore forward Ryan Ginand while junior forward Jimmy Russo streaked to the front of the net. Ginand found Russo wide open and fed him the puck, which he deposited into the back of the net, giving the Huskies their second overtime win of the new year, and a weekend sweep of UMass-Lowell.

“I wasn’t playing my best tonight, so it was a good feeling to get that goal,” Russo said. “It was a really big weekend for us.”

UML head coach Blaise MacDonald said he thought his team played well despite its youth.

“I thought we played extremely well in all phases of the game,” MacDonald said. “We’re playing 12 freshmen. What are your expectations when you’re playing 12 freshmen?”

Thiessen continued his great play in net, stopping 25 of 26 shots, bringing his save percentage to .914, and lowering his goals-against average to 2.65 for the season.

“He stays composed,” Cronin said. “He made some big saves for us down at the end.”

The Huskies travel to Maine this weekend for a pair against the Black Bears (15-6-2, 8-6-1) who sit just three points ahead of NU in the Hockey East standings.

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