LOWELL — One of the more anticipated matchups of the season was between former CCHA powerhouse Notre Dame and UMass-Lowell, last year’s Hockey East Cinderella story, a team that made it to the NCAA Frozen Four.
The programs had never met and both were motivated to continue the climb up in the rankings with the Fighting Irish at No. 6 and the River Hawks at No. 13 heading into the weekend.
The sons of coach Norm Bazin got it done at the Tsongas Center as Lowell completed the sweep with a 3-1 matinee victory to improve to 10-4-0. The River Hawks have won five in a row and nine of 10. Notre Dame (8-5-1) has dropped three of five (1-3-1).
“It was a great weekend of hockey,’’ said Bazin. “It was playoff-style hockey again. It was a game of inches. We both had to earn our ice all night long and make smart plays all the way up and it didn’t disappoint. Special teams seemed to be the difference this weekend.’’
One of the reasons the River Hawks had four power-play goals over the two games was because of the traffic they generated in front.
“It was timely,’’ said Bazin. “We’re pleased that it was clicking. We realized full well they were excellent [No. 1] on the penalty kill and we were pleased we were able to capitalize at the right times. We started to get a little net traffic and two defensemen contributed [goals], which is a great help.’’
Junior defenseman Zack Kamrass was the first one. He put the home team on the board with the first of Lowell’s two power-play goals in the opening period. Kamrass, positioned at the left point, fired a wrister toward the net that sailed through a screen and past senior goalie Steven Summerhays (31 saves) at 17:48.
Less than a minute later, the River Hawks doubled their advantage on another man advantage.
Summerhays lost his stick and his defensemen tried to hold off the Lowell attack, but freshman blue liner Michael Kapla took a drop pass from freshman left wing Chris Maniccia and beat Summerhays from just inside the blue line through a screen at 18:41. It was Kapla’s first collegiate goal.
Notre Dame cut the deficit in half in the second period, also scoring during a power play. At 11:36, senior right wing Bryan Rust beat sophomore netminder Connor Hellebuyck (34 saves) to the stick side from the slot. It was Rust’s third of the season.
The goal energized the Fighting Irish, who increased the pressure on Hellebuyck, but he shut the door. Joseph Pendenza closed it out with an empty-net, power-play goal with 46.3 seconds left.
For the visitors, it was a disappointing result despite a pretty strong effort from an undermanned squad.
“We didn’t seem to be in the right place at the right time for rebounds and opportunities that were there,’’ said ND coach Jeff Jackson. “We had chances, obviously, we had quite a few shots over two nights and scored one goal. Right now, that’s our biggest issue. We’ve come to expect to win. It’s a little challenging right now.
“We’re missing our second- and third-line centers and that really takes away our wingers’ ability to generate a lot of offense. I rotated three centers because we don’t have any other centers. They get tired, too. I think that has a lot to do with our inability to generate more offensively. That will resolve itself over time.’’Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Elle1027.