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UMass-Lowell 3, Providence 2

UMass-Lowell survives the iron

Friars bring heat, can’t post clincher

By Jason Mastrodonato
Globe Correspondent / March 10, 2012
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LOWELL - After his team survived a wild finish against Providence to keep its season alive with a 3-2 victory at Tsongas Center Friday night, UMass-Lowell coach Norm Bazin sat straight up during a postgame news conference with his hands folded on the podium.

The Friars hit two posts in overtime that could’ve ended the River Hawks’ run at their first Hockey East title, and all Bazin could say was, “We’re ecstatic to play another day.’’

Next to Bazin, Zack Kamrass, Friday’s hero, sat identically to his coach. Kamrass was asked about scoring the winner 11:29 into overtime, but his response was simply, “I’m just really ecstatic we’re moving on to Sunday.’’

Ecstatic. Excited. Relieved. The feelings among coach and player was palpable from the 4,512 fans. The seventh-seeded Friars (13-19-4) had brought it all for the second consecutive night, this time denied by two posts and an official’s replay review, but the River Hawks (23-11-1) had escaped, leaving the Hockey East battle to be settled Sunday at 4 p.m. in a decisive Game 3.

“I really don’t think about [our playoff run ending], quite honestly,’’ said Bazin, who set the NCAA record for first-year hockey coaches by increasing UMass-Lowell’s win total by 18 games from a year ago. The River Hawks finished 5-24-4 in 2010-2011.

“It’s hockey. It’s part of the excitement of the game.’’

Providence had won just four of 19 games entering the postseason, but the return of junior Tim Schaller (lower-body injury) has been immediately noticeable to coach Nate Leaman.

After a mostly back-and-forth start, UMass-Lowell’s Chad Ruhwedel, a high-scoring defenseman with 25 points this season, collected the puck at the point, deked his defender, and skated through traffic before burying a backhander top shelf to put UMass-Lowell up.

Schaller was then sent to the penalty box for roughing late in the period and the River Hawks opened the second with the extra man. That’s when Kamrass, who had just 9 points in 29 previous games, made his first big play.

He fired a slap shot that got knocked down in front of Providence goaltender Alex Beaudry, but UMass-Lowell’s Matt Ferreira corralled the puck with his skate and punched it in.

Although the River Hawks picked up their forecheck and outshot the Friars, 15-10, in the second period, Myles Harvey and Stefan Demopoulos scored late goals for Providence to even things up.

Then it was chaos in overtime.

The Friars missed a put-away chance and hit two posts - one a shorthanded effort by Schaller and one off the stick of Ross Mauermann that was reviewed and ruled no goal.

“Two posts, we had a guy wide open in front that we fed it to, but [Doug] Carr made some big saves and they had some puck luck tonight,’’ said Leaman. “That’s the way it goes.’’

UMass-Lowell’s Joseph Pendenza then surged into the offensive zone and fired a slap shot from the left point that bounced off Beaudry’s pads directly to the stick of Kamrass, who punched it in for the winner.

“I kind of hesitated at first because it was almost too good to be true,’’ said Kamrass, one of 15 underclassmen on a roster that features just three seniors.

Kamrass hadn’t scored all season.

“People expect it’ll be a senior or a veteran guy,’’ he said, “but at this point in the season, you have to rely on everyone.’’

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