Colleges

Hockey East final | UMass Lowell 4, Boston College 3

Lowell wins Hockey East championship

Boston, MA - 3/18/2017 - (2nd period) Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks forward Joe Gambardella (5) celebrates his second period goal that gave the River Hawks a 4-2 lead over the Boston College Eagles. BC takes on UMass Lowell in Hockey East championship game at TD Garden. - (Barry Chin/Globe Staff), Section: Sports, Reporter: JohnPowers, Topic: 19Hockey East Final, LOID: 8.3.1904538636.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Lowell’s Joe Gambardella (5) celebrates his second-period goal that gave the River Hawks a 4-2 lead over Boston College Eagles.

They’d won this thing twice and lost it twice over the past four years so UMass Lowell’s hockey team knew that they weren’t going to get the Lamoriello Trophy as a door prize. Certainly not against a Boston College bunch that they knew was going to claw all the way to the end rather than give up their sticks for the season.

“Well, wow, that’s what I can say,” coach Norm Bazin said Saturday night after his redoubtable River Hawks (26-10-3) had held off a furious last-minute Eagle rally to prevail, 4-3, and claim their third Hockey East title in five years before 12,309 at TD Garden. “It’s such a relief. The guys bent in the third period but they didn’t break. I’m very, very proud of that group inside that locker room.”

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Had a Ryan Fitzgerald slapper not ricocheted off the crossbar with just less than 40 seconds to play BC probably would have forced an extra session and might well have won its seventh crown in 13 years and earned an eighth straight bid to the NCAA Tournament that begins next weekend.

“It comes down to a Fitzie crossbar from sending the game into overtime,” mused coach Jerry York, whose varsity (21-15-4) had drawn to within a goal with its cage vacant when Fitzgerald, with his back to the Lowell cage, shot the puck from between his legs and off goalie Tyler Wall’s skate at 17:15. “Lowell’s got an outstanding hockey team. They’ve proven it from October right through to March, but I thought we more than held our own.”

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It was the 13th straight time that one of the two squads had played in the championship game but the first time they’d gone head-to-head. The Eagles, who’d made it to the NCAAs in 17 of the last 19 years, knew that it would be an uphill battle against a kettle of River Hawks who swept the Eagles, 4-1 and 3-1, on the final weekend to force them to share the regular-season title and who’d already sewn up an NCAA slot.

This time Lowell went for the chin early, scoring on its first shot after C.J. Smith filched the puck in the neutral zone, swooped in, and ripped a wrister past goalie Joe Woll at 1:06. BC soon countered on the power play, though, with top gun Austin Cangelosi deflecting in JD Dudek’s point shot at 5:31. But UML came back with a nifty bit of pinball, setting up a slapper by defenseman Chris Forney that beat Woll’s glove at 12:06.

The Eagles squandered a golden chance to equalize a few minutes later when they had a two-man advantage for 1:39 but couldn’t cash in. But Graham McPhee, a fourth-line freshman who’d scored only once all season, did it himself shorthanded at 18:38 when he stripped Smith and dashed in for a breakaway backhander.

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UML took command midway through the second period with goals 92 seconds apart by John Edwardh on the power play (10:05) and Joe Gambardella (11:37) to go up, 4-2. But it took an exceptional performance by Wall, who made 14 of his 38 saves in the third period, and some of the composure that comes with title-game experience for the River Hawks to put another trophy on what is becoming a crowded shelf in the Mill City.

“We just take pride in who we are and what we do,” said Smith.

“Everybody’s willing to commit to the team and it really shows out there. We don’t really care who we’re playing. We’re just going to go out and play Lowell hockey.”

John Powers can be reached at john.powers@globe.com.
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