UMass men aim to defend Hockey East Tournament title after dispatching UMass Lowell

“It wasn’t pretty but it’s playoff time,” said Amherst coach Greg Carvel, whose defending national champions will face Connecticut in the final Saturday night. “You win and you move on.”

Win or lose, the Minutemen (21-12-2) have sewn up a return ticket to the NCAAs based on their body of work, which included a demanding nonconference slate.

Lowell (21-10-3), which last qualified for the nationals in 2017, still has a chance to make the 16-team field but needs the ECAC and CCHA finals to go its way to get off the bubble.

Amherst let the regular-season crown slip away by losing twice to Boston College on the final weekend. But as soon as the playoffs began the Minutemen reverted to the locked-and-loaded form that put rings on their fingers last year.

They beat Providence by two goals in the quarters and quickly brought the River Hawks to ground in the first period, scoring twice in a span of 1 minute 43 seconds.

Garrett Wait produced the first on the power play at 12:27, deftly batting in a rebound amid a scrum. Then he set up captain Bobby Trivigno, the league’s player of the year, who cruised left, turned, and snapped a wrister to the far side at 14:10. Thus did UML trail by two goals despite outshooting UMass, 11-6.

But both sides knew that was an aberration in this rivalry. All three of their meetings this season were decided by one goal — two won by Amherst in regulation, one won by Lowell in a shootout.

So when Matt Crasa redirected Nick Austin’s shot from the right point at 16:37 of the second period while being upended in the goalmouth, the River Hawks were very much back in it. Then in a blink, they weren’t.

Crasa, who apparently was trying to direct the puck toward goalie Owen Savory, put it through his legs at 13:00 of the third. “I’m not sure what that one was,” said Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “It’s a tough one to describe.”

The delighted benefactor was Jerry Harding, the last UMass player to touch the puck, who was credited with his first goal of the season. It was unconventional, but it was huge.

The Minutemen went on to close things out, as they’ve always done against Lowell in the playoffs. But they had to sweat for it, checking fiercely, blocking shots, doing what they knew it would take against one tough branch.

“I have tremendous respect for that team,” said Carvel. “To me they are the toughest team in our league to beat. They’re a big, heavy, strong team. “

The River Hawks are very much like the western varsities that Amherst outbattled last year to win their first national crown. So the Minutemen are well prepped for who’ll they’ll face in a reprise later this month.

And Lowell now has to root for Amherst to beat UConn and hope that Harvard doesn’t beat Quinnipiac in the ECAC final and that Bemidji State doesn’t upset top-ranked Minnesota State in the CCHA.

“I like this group a lot and I hope we get to play another game,” said Bazin. “Because I think we have a better game than what we showed here tonight.”


John Powers can be reached at [email protected]

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