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UML, BU Advance to Hockey East Finals

by Angela Latona / Boston Bruins
The TD Banknorth Garden played host Friday night to the 25th annual Hockey East semi-finals, featuring the best two games that college hockey has to offer. Below is a recap of the earlier of the two contests between the Northeastern University Huskies and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. A recap of Boston University vs. Boston College follows.

UMass-Lowell 3, Northeastern 2. Final, OT

Semifinal #1 --
For the first time in 15 years, the no. 19 University of Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks will advance to the Hockey East Championship after their 3-2 come-from-behind, overtime victory against the no. 5 Northeastern University Huskies.

Lowell wins.
“It was a very hard-fought game by us. You have got to really give it to Northeastern: They play with an amazing amount of tenacity, speed, determination,” UML head coach Blaise MacDonald said after the game.

For the Huskies, who have not appeared in a quarterfinal game since 1994 (when they swept Providence College to advance to the original Boston Garden), the outcome was a clear result of uneven play.

“I think the team that won the game deserved to win,” NU head coach Greg Cronin said. “I thought it was real sloppy. I told the team between each period, we were sloppy -- uncharacteristically loose with the puck, uncharacteristically fuzzy with our structure -- and Lowell just kept on coming, they stick to their game plan for 60-whatever minutes and they deserve to win.”

The game-deciding goal came exactly three minutes into the overtime period when UML right winger Paul Worthington made a corner-to-slot pass to linemate Ben Holmstrom, who lobbed it in front of the NU crease -- just in time for left winger Chris Auger to tip the puck over goaltender Brad Thiessen, who made 41 saves on the night. The goal was Auger’s second of the season.

“We talked a lot about going to the net and there would be rebounds and stuff,” Auger said after the game. “I saw Benny [Holmstrom] get the puck and I just, first reaction was to get to net as quick as I could and put it there and I was able to get a stick on it.”

While the Huskies should earn a berth in the NCAA Regional tournament, for the no. 5 Riverhawks (20-15-2), the win Friday was necessary to keep their season alive.

“Urgency is something that we stress in our locker room,” Campbell said. “We got down, dug ourselves in a bit of a hole early on, and we’ve been in that situation before…guys just stick to the system, and keep plugging away.”

Despite outshooting the Huskies 44-27, the UMass squad had trouble connecting on many of their bids in the first two periods, often flinging attempts from just inside the blue line, which Thiessen, a Hobey Baker Award finalist, easily held off.

For the guys from Northeastern, however, the second stanza was an entirely different story.

At 11:16, NU forward Kyle Kraemer threaded the puck through a UML defenseman, tangling himself up along the way, but maintaining enough wherewithal to flick one past goaltender Carter Hutton, glove-side.

The power play goal was the junior right winger’s second of the season.

Exactly 25 seconds later and the Huskies were back in action and picking away at UML’s morale as forward Denis McCauley wrapped one around the UMass net in an attempt to stuff a point under Hutton. Initially blocked, the rebound remained close to the crease, just in place for centerman Rob Rassey to bring the Huskies up 2-0.

With just over a minute left in the period, UML cut into the two-goal lead and found their first burst of coherency of the night.

The 4-on-4 goal came off a pass high on the faceoff circle to the slot where River Hawk defenseman Ryan Blair, whom coach MacDonald noted is “not known for his goal-scoring,” put one high on Thiessen.

“That was like Godzilla got off your back,” MacDonald said. “And it was a beautiful goal.”

Scott Campbell, who was this week’s Reebok Player of the Week, tallied the assist and would go on to light up the scoreboard one more time for the River Hawks.

Taking a too-many-men penalty late in the third, NU found themselves in a 6-on-4 situation as Hutton was pulled in favor of the extra attacker – Campbell.

With only 20 seconds remaining in regulation, the centerman rushed the net to pick up any loose ends on a shot fired from the point by defenseman Maury Edwards. And what he found was the back of the net as he wristed the rebound up and over a downed Thiessen to force overtime.

“Lately we’ve been playing with a supreme confidence and we’ve been working really hard,” Auger said. “We knew we were able to do it and we just stuck to our system.”

Boston University 3, Boston College 2. Final

Semifinal #2 -- Despite losing one of their top forwards in the first few minutes of play, the Boston University Terriers readjusted lines and ended up setting a Hockey East tournament record as they toppled the Boston College Eagles 3-2 Friday night.

BU's winning goal.
BU senior forward Brandon Yip was taken out of the game on a 5-minute major and game misconduct for hitting from behind just 1:31 into the first period, giving the Eagles a number of scoring opportunities early on. Freshman goaltender Kieran Millan stayed poised in net, however, to help keep the first period scoreless.

“I think generally when we get a big win it’s because Kieran’s playing real big in net,” sophomore forward Colin Wilson said after the game. “He gave us a little bit more poise on defense and definitely to our team to be a little bit more calm and confident, and overall I think he kept us in the game.”

After two periods of relatively uneventful play, the Terriers found themselves down 1-0 going into the final 20-minutes of action. It was at 8:59 in the third when the 44-second, three-goal attack began.

It started with a John McCarthy pass from deep in the corner that was intended for junior forward Zach Cohen, who was perched at the top of the circle. Cohen deked several times before sliding it past Eagles goaltender John Muse.

“Zach, unbelievable effort out of the corner, he’s been doing that all year for us and it’s great to see him score,” McCarthy said in the post-game press conference. “And to see [Brian Strait] get a goal –– he’s hurt, come back, get a goal like that.

“That’s what we can do if we’re playing the right way and we’re playing hard. We have the offensive power to do that, and it was a lot of fun in the third period.”

Strait, a junior defenseman, who is playing in his first game since being injured about three weeks ago, fired a bullet from the point past a screened Muse just 21 seconds after the first BU point. McCarthy registered a second assist off of the goal.

Then again, at 8:15, before the announcer could finish reading off the second goal, it happened again. This time a wraparound from Wilson, who put it stick-side past a now-rattled Muse.

The stretch set a tournament record for the fastest three goals scored by one team. It was also a milestone for Wilson, who became the first Terrier since Hobey Baker Award-winner Chris Drury (1997-98) to post 50 or more points in a single season.

“That was a tough blow for us,” BC head coach Jerry York told the media. “We then came back and really recovered from it. Closed it to 3-2 and with a couple pretty good chances, I think, to tie the hockey game.”

In true BU-BC fashion, however, it was not over.

“We got up off the mat [after falling behind] and competed very hard and almost tied the game,” York said. “It was hard at the end when it was 6-on-5 –– I’d used my timeout, there was no faceoffs and we’re trying to get the first six players on the ice, which is hard for us because our 6-on-5 teams is kind of spread out over three different lines.”

And at 5:42, BC sophomore forward Joe Whitney snuck one by Millan to put the Eagles within one. They had a few more close attempts before the buzzer, but would ultimately be held off by the top-ranked Terriers, who will play Saturday for the Hockey East title.
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