New Era dawns in college hockey as UMass-Lowell beats BU for Hockey East Championship

For years, North American college hockey has been dominated by the same legendary programs. In Hockey East, the competitive Division I hockey conference, teams like Boston College, Boston University, University of Maine, and University of Vermont have held a monopoly. In fact, those four teams have been the only ones to win the Hockey East championship since 1996.

This year, however, things were different.  The UMass-Lowell River Hawks finished the regular season on top of the East, and their success continued into the playoffs. They defeated BU 1-0 in the championship game on Saturday night to improve their record to 26-20-2, win the Hockey East title and move on to the NCAA championship tournament, where they will hold the No.3 seed.

It should be noted that the River Hawks victory over the Terriers has brought an end to a historical hockey career. BU coach Jack Parker had announced earlier in the season that no matter the outcome, this was to be his last season behind the Terriers bench after 40 years at the helm. He was also an assistant coach for four years prior to being named head coach.

In his successful career with BU Parker guided the team to an 897-472-115 record. His trophy shelf boasts four NCAA championships (most recently 2012), 7 Hockey East championships, and 21 Beanpot titles. He coached four of the members of the 1980 Olympic champion “Miracle on Ice” team, including the captain Mike Eruzione. He has also coached successful NHL players like Keith Tkachuk, Tony Amonte, Chris Drury, Rick DiPietro, Tom Poti, and Ryan Whitney.

In the first round of the NCAA championship, the River Hawks will take on yet another legendary hockey program when they face the No. 4 seed Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers enter the game with a 22-12-7 record. They are hot right now, riding a six game winning streak and an 8-1 record in the month of March. Wisconsin’s roster also boasts nine players who’s rights are owned by NHL teams, including the No. 36 overall pick in last year’s draft, Nic Kerdiles (Anaheim). The Badgers also happen to be one of most successful and legendary programs in NCAA hockey history, winning six national championships and racking up 12 Frozen Four appearances in the 24 times they have made the NCAA tournament.

While the River Hawks have their work cut out for them, the upstarts have some talent of their own. Junior forward Joseph Pendenza leads the team in points (13 G, 23 A, 36 P) through 38 games, and is trailed closely by Pittsburgh Penguins prospect and sophomore forward Scott Wilson (38 GP, 15-19-34). Junior defenseman Chad Ruhwedel (38 GP, 7-15-22) assisted on the only goal of the Hockey East championship game, and was named the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week following the victory.

The River Hawks’s strength truly lies in their goaltending. Freshman goaltender and Winnipeg Jets prospect Connor Hellebuyck took the starting goalie position by storm this year with an unreal performance. Hellebuyck posted an 18-2 record, with a .949 save percentage, 1.39 goals against average, and five shutouts going into the NCAA tournament.  The rookie sensation also took home a Hockey East honor following the team’s victory over BU when he was named the Hockey East Athletic Republic Player of the Week. In the final two games of the Hockey East tournament he stopped 70 of 71 shots, including a 36 save shutout in the championship game.

The matchup against Wisconsin will be one of the most entertaining games of the first round of the NCAA tournament. The two teams meet on Friday at 4:30 PM at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire.