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Wilmington’s Joe Pendenza lining up as a stellar two-way threat for UMass-Lowell hockey

Pendenza is a star, again

Joe Pendenza dodges the question well. He’s worked too hard to get to this point. No point in jinxing it.

But when you’re the leading scorer on the best team in Hockey East, the acronym NHL makes its way into conversation.

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“I kind of take one day at a time,” said Pendoza (inset), an Arlington Catholic graduate who grew up in Wilmington. “If that comes up, I’ll see what happens.”

Pendenza is having his second consecutive standout season for the University of Massachusetts Lowell, with 12 goals and 22 assists in 34 games through Wednesday. The more impressive statistic might be his positive-12 plus/minus. He hasn’t been on the ice for a negative goal-spread in nine straight games dating back to a 4-3 overtime loss to Maine on Feb. 3.

With improvements in his defensive ability, Pendenza’s two-way play is drawing notice. It’s what coaches often point to when describing the difference between a pretty good player and a great player. Most recently, he’s been skating alongside Josh Holmstrom and A.J. White as the three have been able to contain opponents’ top lines.

Back to that question again: Is the dream of one day playing in the NHL becoming any more real?

“When your line is clicking, you feel like everything is going right, it feels good, and you feel like you can do whatever,” the 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior center said. “We got to that point because of our hard work and structure.

“We’re a great defensive line. We’re committed to being good defensive players. That’s how the offensive has come for us.”

When Pendenza first landed at Arlington Catholic as a freshman, playing time was scarce. He needed to learn how to adjust, how to play quicker and smarter.

It didn’t take long. In his sophomore year, Pendenza was slotted on the Cougars’ second line as they made a run to the Super 8 semifinals.

“The last year he was with us, he improved dramatically defensively,” said Arlington Catholic coach Dan Shine . “He was killing penalties, he was on the power play.

“Most kids, their strength is not defensively when they’re young. Everybody has the offensive skills and skating ability. The defensive part of their game comes later. When they get a little bit older they understand the game more.

“He’s no different than anyone else. He was a real good goal scorer in high school and as you get older you realize the game is more than just offense, and you have to understand your defensive responsibilities.”

It was of little surprise that the same transition process took place when Pendenza stopped playing for AC after two years and joined the Junior Bruins of the EJHL. At first he struggled. Then came the better defensive effort, and again the offensive production followed.

“Once I got used to it and got a better feel for the game, I got more confident and things took off,” said Pendenza, who posted 21 goals and 27 assists in 44 games during the 2009-2010 season, his last with the Bruins. “I was just getting scoring chances. I was playing really well defensively and coach [Peter Masters ] was putting me on the ice a lot more. I was playing in all situations — power play, penalty kill; I started realizing I was playing good.”

Northeastern and Bentley showed some interest, but UMass-Lowell, with coach BlaiseMacDonald , stacked its chips on Pendenza and he’s since been paying dividends.

“I think what makes him an offensive threat is he can skate with anybody in the league,” said Norm Bazin , who took over the head coaching reins at UML following the 2010-2011 season. “When you prove you have that ability to stay up in the play and when you’re good defensively, you get a lot of opportunities offensively.”

Bazin said he could see a few current River Hawks getting a chance in the NHL and Pendenza could be one of them.

“He’s an extremely well-rounded player today,” said Shine. “He’s put a lot into this.”

UMass Lowell (23-10-2) opened up a best-of-3 Hockey East quarterfinal series against Maine with a 4-2 win on Thursday night.

D’Agostino races ahead

Masconomet Regional grad Abbey D’Agostino of Topsfield has worked her way into the national spotlight with her prowess on the track at Dartmouth College.

The junior became the first US woman to win both the 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter national titles. And she did it in one outing, capturing both at the 2013 NCAA Division 1 indoor championship meet in Fayetteville, Ark., last weekend

D’Agostino won the 5,000-meter in 15:28.11, the fifth-fastest female time in NCAA history. She won the 3,000-meter in 9:01.08. She won her first individual national championship last season in the outdoor 5000m in Des Moines. . . .

Prior to Austin Prep’s 2-1 win over St. John’s Prep in the Super 8 semifinals Wednesday, the team received a special visit from a handful of former players, including Ross Gaudet , who won a national championship at Boston University in 2009.

“He told them, as much as he enjoyed Boston University, his special moments were high school hockey,” said AP coach Louis Finocchiaro . “And to cherish them and believe in yourselves. And we tell all our guys to believe in themselves.

“We’re a good enough team to play and win hockey games and to win this tournament. That’s our goal.”

Austin Prep will play Malden Catholic Sunday at 6 p.m. at the TD Garden with a chance to become the seventh school to win the Super 8 in the 23-year history of the tournament.

Jennings is player of week

John Jennings , the St. John’s Prep standout from Danvers and senior at Colby College, was named the New England Small College Athletic Conference Men’s Lacrosse Player of the Week on Monday. Jennings scored five goals in an 11-10 overtime win over Amherst last Saturday.

Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at jasonmastrodonato@yahoo.com.
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