MANCHESTER, N.H. – Connor Hellebuyck made 31 saves to backbone the third-ranked University of Massachusetts Lowell to Friday evening's 6-1 victory against eighth-ranked University of Wisconsin in an NCAA Northeast Regional semifinal game at Verizon Wireless Arena.
UML, which won the Hockey East regular-season and tournament titles to earn the region's top seed, extended its winning streak to six games to improve to 27-10-2 and set a school Division I record for most wins in a single season. The River Hawks advance to face off in the March 30 (6:30 p.m.) Northeast Regional final against the winner of the semifinal between University of New Hampshire and University of Denver.
Wisconsin, which earned an NCAA tourney automatic berth as WCHA tournament champions, saw its six-game winning-streak end by allowing a season-high six goals. The Badgers finish the season at 22-13-7.
Ryan McGrath, with a goal and an assist, was the only skater to record multiple points as the River Hawks had six different goal scorers. Hellebuyck recorded double-digit saves in the first (11) and third (14) periods.
UW goaltender Joel Rumpel was credited with 20 saves.
The River Hawks took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission despite UW's 11-4 shot advantage in the opening 20 minutes. The Badgers were whistled for a tripping penalty 39 seconds into the game. As the power was about to expire, Mass Lowell's Scott Wilson skated down the slot and his close-range backhander was blocked aside by Rumpel.
Wisconsin's Jefferson Dahl snapped a shot from the hashmarks in the slot that Zack Kamrass deflected over the cage at 4:45. Dahl kept the puck in the offensive zone at the right point and his low slap shot was sticked down and covered by Hellebuyck. Less than a minute later, Frankie Simonelli's screened blast from the right post was enveloped by Hellebuyck.
Joseph Pendenza gave UMass Lowell a 1-0 lead at 7:11 when he corralled the puck along the left dashers at center ice and snapped a wrist shot from the left faceoff dot that deflected off Rumpel inside the right post. A.J. White, who made the outlet pass, and Joe Houk were credited with assists.
Midway through the first frame, Joe Houk's slap shot from the left point was tipped in front off the stick of Shayne Thompson wide of Rumpel and the cage.
With 6:20 remaining in the first period, UW's Tyler Barnes ripped a one-timer on a centering pass from behind the net was blocked aside by Hellebuyck. The Badgers were sent to the penalty box for tripping at 15:33, but a shorthanded rush generated a Ryan Little one-timer from the slot that Hellebuyck kicked aside with his extended left leg pad.
Moments later, the Badgers were awarded a penalty shot at 16:11 on an interference call against UML. Dahl charged down the middle, maneuvered to the left in the slot and shifted back to the right to snap a low shot on the forehand, but Hellebuyck once again was in position to stop the puck with his left leg pad and preserve the River Hawks' 1-0 lead.
In the closing minute of the first, White fired a quick wrister from the slot but UW defenseman John Ramage blocked the shot in front to prevent the puck from reaching Rumpel.
The River Hawks generated a 2-on-1 rush in the opening minute of the second stanza. Josh Holmstrom carried the puck on the left wing with Adam Chapie on the opposite side. Holmstrom opted to shoot from the top of the circle and the puck sailed high over the crossbar.
Mass Lowell extended the lead to 2-0 at 3:12. Christian Folin led a rush up the middle of the ice and sent a hard pass to Wilson on the left wing. Wilson immediately returned the puck to the slot for Folin, whose shot went into the upper-right corner.
Less than 30 seconds later, Zengerle led a Wisconsin rush down the left wing and Barnes' shot from the low slot ricocheted off the bottom of the crossbar and dropped to the crease, where Hellebuyck fell backward to cover the puck.
At 5:40 of the second period, Pendenza ripped a shot from the right circle that UW goalie Rumpel fended off with his right blocker. The River Hawks were whistled for consecutive icings, which prompted UML to call its timeout at 8:34. One minute later, the Badgers' Michael Mersch blasted a shot from the left faceoff dot that Hellebuyck guided over the net with a shoulder save.
Mass Lowell quickly counterattacked as Wilson carried the puck across the blue line, spun around a defender and slipped a pass to the right circle, where Chapie's shot caromed off the right post. At 11:30 of the second stanza, Holmstrom got behind the Badgers' defense for a shorthanded bid and as he was pulled down by a UW skater, sent a shot on goal that Rumpel directed aside. UML sustained pressure, however, and Jake Suter's slap shot was stopped by the UW goalie. With the teams skating 4-on-4, the River Hawks' Ryan McGrath blasted a slap shot that deflected off Rumpel's glove wide of the cage.
The River Hawks took a 3-0 lead at 14:08 of the second period. Suter corralled the loose puck in the defensive zone and slipped the puck on the stick of Thompson at the opposite blue line. Thompson entered the zone at the right point and advanced to the top of the crease, where he chipped a shot into the upper right corner.
Wisconsin closed within 3-1 on a power-play goal at 8:19 of the third period. Ramage initiated the sequence by moving the puck from the high slot to Joseph LaBate in the right circle. LaBate centered the puck and Nic Kerdiles fluttered a shot that went between Hellebuyck's legs.
The Badgers threatened again at 11:40, when Simonelli's shot from the right point deflected off a defenseman towards the right post. Hellebuyck, who had started to shit to the top of the crease, lunged back to the post and kicked the puck aside.
Mass Lowell reestablished a three-goal lead at 13:56 when Derek Arnold and Ryan McGrath converted a 2-on-1 rush into a goal. In the neutral zone, McGrath found Arnold on the right side. Arnold made the diagonal return pass to McGrath in the left circle and then he found Arnold alone at the right post for the redirection into the open net.
The River Hawks scored twice in the final minute to secure the victory. Chapie netted an unassisted empty-net goal on a backhanded wraparound shot at the left post with 48 seconds remaining, then McGrath potted a goal with three seconds remaining.