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UNH hockey team loses third straight, 5-3 to UMass Lowell

LOWELL, Mass. – The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team came into the Tsongas Center with a bad record, but an optimistic Wildcats fan could have argued for a pass for each defeat. After all, one loss had come by a goal at top-ranked Minnesota. Another came in overtime to then-unbeaten Michigan. Another came on the road to Rensselaer, despite UNH putting on a clinic in the third period.

The Wildcats left the arena with another defeat – and it’d be hard to explain this one away.

UNH responded to falling out of the USCHO top 20 by getting handled by a resurgent UMass Lowell team, 5-3, giving the Wildcats their third straight loss and a defeat in their Hockey East opener and dropping them to 1-4-1 for the season.

It was a particularly frustrating effort – UNH scored the first goal, but saw the No. 14 River Hawks (4-3-0, 1-0-0 Hockey East) rally back and put the game out of reach with back-to-back goals in the third – and Coach Dick Umile couldn’t wait to put the focus on today’s rematch at the Whittemore Center.

“We’ve got to battle back (today),” he said. “We’ll play them in our arena (today). Hopefully, we’ll come out on top. That’s the plan.”

Lowell was in command throughout the game, but UNH still had a chance when it went on the power play down 3-2 with 14:28 left in the game. The Wildcats missed on that chance, and when they got a re-do thanks to a hooking call only six seconds after it expired, they couldn’t convert on that one either, getting only two shots altogether on River Hawks goalie Connor Hellebuyck, who never allowed the Wildcats any follow-up opportunities.

“We had our chances, obviously. We didn’t score,” Umile said. “We moved (the puck) fairly well. … but not a good look there on the rebounds.”

If the power play struggles crippled the Wildcats, the following minutes officially did them in. Brett Pesce couldn’t handle the puck on the blue line and lost it to Lowell’s Ryan McGrath, who won a dash against Pesce and made a move on goalie Casey DeSmith to score and put the River Hawks up 4-2 with 7:45 left.

The puck went back in the UNH end off the next faceoff, and Scott Wilson beat DeSmith again 23 seconds later to quickly turn a tight game into a blowout. Nick Sorkin rounded out the scoring with an impressive effort, skating through the Lowell defense and lifting a backhand shot over Hellebuyck (34 saves) with 18.2 seconds left, but the damage had been done.

“A one-goal lead isn’t very safe, but when you can get an insurance marker it certainly helps out,” Lowell Coach Norm Bazin said. “As you can tell by the final score, it was a big, big goal.”

The Wildcats seemed poised to roar to life in the first period, when the River Hawks paid the price for over-committing on the offensive attack. Dalton Speelman corralled the puck, carried it down the ice and zipped it over to defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who skated in all alone and deked out Hellebuyck for the 1-0 lead with 13:54 left.

“I was able to get a step on (the UMass Lowell defenseman) and Speelman made a great pass,” van Riemsdyk said. “I just kind of snuck it in five hole.”

The River Hawks took control of the game from there, as Josh Holmstrom knocked in a rebound of Zack Kamrass’s power play shot with 11:35 left, Wilson made a dazzling pass to Adam Chapie in front of the net for a goal with 9:00 left, and Jake Suter had his slap shot from the right point go in through Shayne Thompson’s screen with 11:45 left in the second period.

Though the Wildcats were losing their grip on the game, Kevin Goumas provided momentary life with 2:38 left in the second. UNH’s strategy of getting the puck out high for shots hadn’t worked through three power plays, but Goumas converted on the fourth when he drifted out from behind the goal line and flipped a backhand on net that somehow slipped through Hellebuyck and into the net.

“Anytime you get a bounce like that when you’re down two goals, it gives a team momentum,” Goumas said. “Afterward we had our chances, but we couldn’t capitalize.”

That meant the Wildcats ended up taking their fourth loss in six games, a start that, while far from unrecoverable, is dangerous and alarming considering what’s been a formidable Hockey East and UNH’s tough non-conference schedule this year. The teams skated off the ice trending in opposite directions, with Lowell sporting a three-game winning streak and UNH still looking for answers, but Umile showed no inclination to start panicking.

“The season’s early,” he said. “We’ll be ready to go (tonight).”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at, or via Twitter @dbonifant.)

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