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For second straight game, UNH hockey team beats UMass Lowell, 5-2

LOWELL, Mass. – According to the scoreboard, the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team played the same kind of game against UMass Lowell yesterday as it did Friday night. But Coach Dick Umile saw it differently.

Again, the Wildcats beat the River Hawks, 5-2, this time on the road at the Tsongas Center. But this time, there was a challenge to deal with. This time, there was a feisty team to contend with early on.

UNH handled the tasks each time, and its coach had to be satisfied.

“I thought they played a terrific game, from start to finish,” said Umile, whose team improved to 11-1-2, and 8-1-1 in Hockey East. “That’s a good hockey team we just beat.”

On Friday, Umile’s voice was tinged with disappointment after the Wildcats took a 4-0 lead but let the River Hawks (4-7-1, 2-6-1) close to within 4-2 before closing out a 5-2 win. This time, UNH bounced back after going down 1-0 and letting UMass Lowell tie the game at 2, and Umile praised his team’s ability to stay poised when it’s tough early.

“Not even a worry, they just do what they did,” he said. “They took control of the game from the middle of the second period on, I thought. They played an excellent third period.”

Lowell’s Stephen Buco scored the first goal 8:55 into the game, but UNH didn’t even make it to the locker room with a deficit. The Wildcats brought the puck down and were cycling it around in the final minute, and Eric Knodel made it 1-1 when he roofed a shot from the right faceoff circle with 11.5 seconds left.

UNH took the lead only 1:34 into the next period when goalie Doug Carr had trouble picking up Justin Agosta’s shot from the right circle, but the River Hawks answered just 22 seconds later when Buco knocked home a loose puck in front of the net.

The Wildcats jumped ahead for good with 8:19 left in the second. Defenseman Brett Kostolansky kept a clearing attempt in the Lowell end, and he threw it to the front of the net for Dalton Speelman, who missed on the first shot but scored on his own rebound to make it 3-2.

“It was huge. They were playing us well,” Speelman said. “We definitely needed another goal, and it was good timing for us to put it in.”

Brett Pesce’s first goal helped put the game away, as the freshman defenseman found the net on a shot from the point with 9:04 to go, and Speelman rounded out the scoring with an empty-netter with 56.7 seconds left.

“It’s groundhog day, unfortunately,” River Hawks Coach Norm Bazin said. “We couldn’t generate enough offense, and they don’t need that many chances to execute. They showed why they’re a very strong team within our league and within the country, also.”

The Wildcats could have a gaudy ranking to show just how strong. With the weekend sweep, combined with Boston College’s 4-2 loss to Boston University Friday, UNH could be sitting at No. 1 when the national polls come out tomorrow.

“They’re playing well together, everybody’s contributing,” said Umile, whose team got points from 11 players. “Right now, we’re playing pretty good hockey in all three zones. … I’m very pleased with the team. Good effort by everybody.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or abonifant@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @dbonifant.)

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