PITTSBURGH — A large fan contingent showed up to the Consol Energy Center, wearing UMass-Lowell blue.
The River Hawks, flush with excitement over their first trip to the NCAA Frozen Four, arrived with big dreams of a national title. Instead, they are going home empty-handed after a 3-2 overtime loss to Yale in Thursday’s first semifinal.
Unfortunately for Lowell, the game wasn’t nearly as close as the score would indicate. The Bulldogs manhandled Lowell at times, making the River Hawks look slow and a step behind, which seemed an impossibility in games past.
“They’re a great team and they played a great game tonight,’’ said senior captain Riley Wetmore. “We just didn’t have our legs in the first period. We did have a good second and the third and overtime, they got a lot of shots on us and they found one that went in.’’
Wetmore and junior Joseph Pendenza were UMass-Lowell’s goal scorers, netting them just 14 seconds apart in the second period.
“The first period we kind of struggled and they kind of took it to us and we were kind of in a hole at that point,’’ said Pendenza. “We definitely tried to get pucks in deep on their [defense], their [defense] played a really good game and helped stand up at the blue line.’’
UMass-Lowell was a team that all season used its skill and speed to put opponents on their heels. On Thursday, it was Yale’s turn to do the same to the River Hawks.
“They just kept kind of coming in waves,’’ said Pendenza. “We got a little taste of our own medicine, kind of. They just got to pucks first tonight and they played a hell of a game.’’
Wetmore said he agreed with his teammate’s assessment.
“They did to us what we normally do to teams,’’ he said. “They deserve the credit.’’
Yale poured 47 shots on Lowell, including a margin of 23-3 in the last 26 minutes, 59 seconds.
“The first period we were held to [five] shots,’’ said Wetmore, whose team produced a season-low 18 shots. “We got two goals and we knew we could score there, but we just didn’t bring it. They played a great game. It was just unfortunate we didn’t have our legs tonight.’’
Wetmore and Pendenza’s goals in a 14-second span were the sixth-fastest goals in Frozen Four history. Wetmore’s goal was his first point since March 22 against Providence in the Hockey East semifinals . . . Lowell sophomore left wing Scott Wilson had an assist on Wetmore’s goal and ended his season with an eight-game point streak with five goals and six assists in that stretch . . . The Hobey Baker Award will be given out Friday night. The three finalists are Boston College left wing Johnny Gaudreau, Quinnipiac senior goaltender Eric Hartzell, and St. Cloud State senior forward Drew LeBlanc.
The ECAC doesn’t always get as much respect as other conferences. Buttwo teams from the ECAC, Yale and Quinnipiac, will face off Saturday for the national title.
The teams have already faced each other three times this season, with Quinnipiac taking all three games. In fact, the Bobcats have a five-game winning streak against Yale.
“I think it makes for a good story, the teams being so close in proximity,” said Quinnipiac’s Jeremy Langlois. “But once it comes to gametime, I don’t think it matters what league you’re in, it’s just two teams going at it.”
But as Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said, “I think it’s phenomenal for our league. I think the ECAC was one of the best, if not the best league in the country this year. Top to bottom, we’re as good as anyone.”
Yale and Quinnipiac are just 10.25 miles apart. That’s the second-closest distance between schools playing for the title. The closest were Boston University and Boston College, which are 4.23 miles apart. They played each other in 1978 for the championship . . . Quinnipiac was averaging a nation-best 1.65 goals per game heading into the Frozen Four.
Yale freshman defenseman Mitch Winek picked an opportune time to score his first collegiate goal when he converted on a power play at 12:55 of the opening period to give the Bulldogs the lead.
“Obviously, it’s awesome to see anyone score, but to see him score his first goal is pretty surreal,’’ said junior defenseman Gus Young, who hails from Dedham, Mass. “It’s a great time to score.’’