LOWELL, Mass.-An unassisted goal from freshman Dillan Bentley (Peoria, Ill.) lifted the No. 18/19 UMass Lowell men's hockey team (15-9-1, 9-5-1 Hockey East) to a 1-0 victory over in-state rival Massachusetts (9-13-3, 3-11-1 HEA) in front of a sellout crowd at the Tsongas Center on Friday night.
With the win, the River Hawks snapped their 10-game winless streak against their Kennedy Cup foes dating back to 2020. Head Coach Norm Bazin also moves to a 21-9-3 mark against the Minutemen during his tenure at the helm.
"I thought it was a hard-fought game. Obviously, we're pleased with getting points against a great opponent. I thought several guys played well and had to. We knew we had to bring an A-game against these guys. It seems like every time we play, it's a one-goal game," said Bazin following the win.
Bentley's goal was the lone point of the evening on both ends of the ice. The game-winner marked Bentley's second collegiate goal and his second against the Minutemen. The forward scored his first earlier this season off an equalizer on the road at the Mullins Center to force overtime against Massachusetts. Defensively, four River Hawks registered blocks in the outing: sophomore Isac Jonsson (Ängelholm, Sweden), junior Brehdan Engum (Burnsville, Minn.), freshman Owen Fowler (Tewksbury, Mass.) and Bentley. Defensively, graduate student Gustavs Davis Grigals (Riga, Latvia) led the charge with 28 saves en route to registering his second shutout of the season. Grigals also backstopped a flawless penalty kill performance against the nation's top-ranked power play unit to improve to a 9-5-1 record.
Faceoffs proved to be a major difference-maker for the River Hawks in the win. With 43 wins and just 19 losses, UMass Lowell ended the night with a 69.4-percent win rate. Senior Brian Chambers (Weymouth, Mass.) and Bentley logged solid nights at the dot, with Chambers winning 10 of his 13 attempts and Bentley nine of his 13.
"Getting a shutout in Hockey East, I don't care who it is, is very difficult. The guys played five-man defense. Our goal here was to spend more time in the offensive zone. It didn't quite work out that way, but we had some looks that we thought were very good, especially as the game wore on," remarked Bazin. "The first period was a feeling-out process. There were different spurts here where we were forced to kill, and that went well. Overall, it was five guys being very aware out there."
An uneventful first period kept both sides trading blows for twenty minutes. An even 11-11 shot-on-goal effort kept Grigals and UMass' Luke Pavicich on alert as they fended off various close calls to keep a clean sheet. Despite an evenly matched battle on the board, the River Hawks quietly dominated offensively with a staggering 16-5 edge on faceoffs heading into the intermission.
Shortly after puck drop on the second frame, Massachusetts seemingly gained the edge when the puck trickled across the goal line past Grigals following some physical play on the doorstep. The near game-changer was quickly waved off, however, breathing life back into UMass Lowell's attack. The intensity quickly picked up as the River Hawks sent some solid shots toward Pavicich as they crept their way into the offensive zone.
Disciplined and patient hockey earned UMass Lowell the advantage at 8:04 in the second period. Chasing a dump pass into the zone, senior Zach Kaiser (Orangeville, Ontario) charged at the puck and went hard into a battle along the boards. Though Massachusetts chipped the puck out to friendly territory, a defensive misstep left the puck up for grabs in the slot for the quick reflexes of Bentley. The freshman quickly turned and rocketed off a quick wrist shot to push the River Hawks out to the 1-0 lead.
An unrelenting, full-ice effort from the River Hawks ultimately locked in the 1-0 victory in the third period. Impressive defending by the blue line managed to limit the visiting Minutemen to just six shots on goal in the third period, even with an extra skater in the final minutes.
UMass Lowell continues its homestretch next weekend, Feb. 3-4, with another set of Hockey East tilts against Boston College and New Hampshire.