River Hawks Lack Finishing Touch
LOWELL -- The day after Thanksgiving is usually reserved for turkey sandwiches and shopping, but for 3,451 fans at the Tsongas Center, it was a day for UMass Lowell hockey as the River Hawks faced off against the ECAC’s Rensselaer Engineers.
UML (6-6-1 overall) entered the non-conference tilt unbeaten in five of its last seven games (4-2-1) and winners of their last two games but they could not keep the streak going as the Engineers, backed by the strong goaltending of freshman Owen Savory, who was making the first start of his college career, and the perfect play of their penalty killing units, left the Mill City with a 2-1 win.
The River Hawks had four power plays on the day but could not convert on them.
“I thought our guys didn’t come out with enough urgency,” River Hawk coach Norm Bazin said. “I thought we got better as the game went along but we couldn’t convert on our special teams and that was a dagger tonight.”
RPI defenseman Will Reilly was the offensive catalyst for his team with a goal and an assist to lead his club to the victory.
Both teams came out cautiously concentrating on playing good team defense before going on the offense.
At the midpoint of the period, RPI began to find its game and cashed in on a scoring opportunity when Reilly, a Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick (7th round, 2017), sent a shot from the point that deflected past River Hawk goaltender Tyler Wall giving the Engineers a 1-0 lead 10:52 into the contest. Jacob Hayhurst and Ottoville Lappanen assisted on the lamplighter.
Each team mounted a handful of sparkling scoring bids but the opening period ended with the Engineers holding a 1-0 lead.
The goaltenders took over in the second period.
RPI forced Savory to be his club’s best penalty killer as the Engineers were assessed three minor penalties in the period. The River Hawks power play unit sent more than one shot that would have landed in the back of the net on another night but Savory stopped shot after shot to keep the River Hawks off the board.
At the other end of the ice, UML’s Wall was called upon to face more than one odd-man rush. His biggest stop came on an RPI two on one when he flashed the glove and just kept the puck out of the net on what looked to be Reilly’s second goal of the game.
With each goaltender matching each other with save after save, the Engineers skated off the ice holding onto their 1-0 lead after two periods.
The River Hawks opened the third period on a mission to tie the affair and did just that only 1:59 into the frame when defenseman Jon McDonald took a pass from Charlie Levesque and put a wrist shot into the far side of the net tying the score at 1-1. It was the first goal of McDonald’s college career. Ryan Lohin, who sent Levesque up the ice with a pass, garnered an assist on the lamplighter.
A scramble in Savory’s crease resulted in tempers flaring with 15:47 to play in the period which resulted in a two-minute penalty for interference to RPI’s Brady Wiffen and a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for charging to River Hawk Reid Stefanson.
The Engineers killed off their portion of the penalties then took a 2-1 lead with a power play goal 8:33 into the period. Jakub Lacka tipped Patrick Polino’s point shot through Wall’s legs. Reilly drew the secondary assist on the play.
UML would carry a large portion of the play for the remainder of the period but Savory and the RPI defense withstood the pressure to ensure the win for the Engineers.
“It’s huge,” Savory said about winning at the Tsongas Center. “The guys did a great job of letting me see the puck (and) clearing rebounds.
“Coming into tonight, it was a big game for us and I think all of the boys were really good with me and knew I was going to do my job so (first career win) felt really amazing.”
Sunday, the two teams will travel to Troy, New York for the second of the two game series on RPI’s home ice.
The River Hawks will return to Hockey East action December 7 at Boston University and will host BU the following night.