Lowell left with blank stares by Friars
LOWELL - Providence College hockey coach Nate Leaman stood against the wall in a tiny room beneath the stands of the Tsongas Center Sunday night holding his breath.
Ross Mauermann, who had scored the only goal in a stunning upset of second-seeded UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East quarterfinals, and goalie Alex Beaudry, who made 29 saves in the shutout, had just spent six minutes in the small interview room.
“Yuck,’’ Leaman said as his two standouts walked by him out the door. “Those guys stink.’’
The Friars (14-19-4) had left it all on the ice, and the odor that filled the room was proof.
After winning just four of its last 19 games entering the tournament, Providence turned into a different team with the return of junior captain Tim Schaller (lower-body injury). Schaller’s presence was noticeable in the 1-0 win, Mauermann’s tip-in goal in the first period was the spark, and the packed-in, physical Providence defense paired with Beaudry to shut down the River Hawks (23-12-1) and advance to TD Garden for the first time since 2001.
It marked the first time in Hockey East tournament history that a seven seed knocked off a two.
“I saw it in practice this week,’’ said Leaman, whose squad will take on top-ranked Boston College on Friday. “Getting Timmy back helped our confidence a lot. The guys were really plugged in . . . They were extremely sharp and they were hungry. And that’s the key. You have to be hungry and desperate this time of year.’’
With two first-year coaches battling it out with a pair of teams that were watching the playoffs from home last year, this one had the feel of a tight one right from the start.
Unfortunately for UMass-Lowell and coach Norm Bazin, the River Hawks were the first to make a mistake.
Seven minutes into the opening period, the River Hawks let the Friars set up in their zone. Providence moved the puck from point to point before Alex Velischek fired a shot from the left side that Mauermann tipped between the legs of sophomore goalie Doug Carr.
The River Hawks had a hard time getting anything going offensively for most of the first and second periods. While Carr continued to stymie the Friars’ odd-man rushes and turn aside slap shots, his teammates hardly had any clean looks at Beaudry. The Friars also blocked 20 shots.
“That’s huge,’’ the senior goalie said. “That takes the pressure off me.’’
After a Providence goal was reviewed and denied because of a high stick midway through the third period, the River Hawks finally started applying the pressure Bazin had been looking for.
The puck spent a lot of time in the Providence zone, but the compact defense was proving tough to crack. Shot after shot was either blocked by a defenseman or cleared away by Beaudry, and after a last-minute effort with an extra attacker, the River Hawks were forced to watch the opposition celebrate on their home ice.
While Providence hadn’t been to the playoffs since 2008, Bazin was dealing with similar inexperience on his roster. Junior captain Riley Wetmore (37 points) was skating, but limited to fourth-line duty with a lower-body injury, and the River Hawks were playing just four seniors compared to 14 underclassmen.
“I’d be lying if I told you they were all prepared and playoff-ready because they weren’t,’’ said Bazin. “That’s all that part of the process, unfortunately. We’d like to make them all three years older and maybe having played in two playoff rounds, but they haven’t.’’
The River Hawks’ season is still not over, though, with the NCAA Tournament bracket to be announced in the coming week. UMass-Lowell is ranked eighth in the latest USA Today Division 1 poll and the tournament field includes 16 teams.
“I think we learned a lot about playoff hockey,’’ said Carr, who made 35 saves. “How tight it is, how mistakes are magnified, how you have to do all the little things and put the effort that’s going to win games.
“It was a good experience for us, so hopefully we get another shot and learn from it.’’