LOWELL, Mass. – Behind two goals by Drew George (Regina, Sask.), the Sacred Heart men's hockey team earned its biggest win in program history, defeating #1/1 UMass Lowell 2-1 at the Tsongas Center Friday night.
The River Hawks are the highest-ranked team Sacred Heart has beaten since the Pioneers defeated #8 Yale 7-6 on Nov. 22, 2011 at Webster Bank Arena. Goaltender Alex Vazzano (Trumbull, Conn.) made 35 saves in his first career start for the Pioneers.
"I thought we played a pretty structured, disciplined game," said head coach C.J. Marottolo following the win. "I liked our energy level throughout the whole game. The turning point in the game was our guys' response to the Lowell score. You could feel the energy level in the building rise, and we responded with a quick goal."
Sacred Heart (1-0) took advantage of an early power play to take a 1-0 lead. With five seconds left on the man advantage, David Iacono (Newmarket, Ont.) found George on the back post, who knocked the puck past UMass Lowell (0-1) goalie Connor Hellebuyck with 16:12 remaining in the period. The Pioneers almost took a 2-0 lead at the 11:48 mark, as George found Ben Lake (Calgary, Alb.) on a 2-1 in the River Hawk zone, but Hellebuyck stopped Lake's shot. Vazzano was on point early, making five saves in the early portion of the period including a couple in heavy traffic.
"Once we got that quick lead, everyone looked around and said 'we can play with these guys," said George, who had his first multi-goal game since recording at hat trick at Connecticut on Feb. 10, 2012. "It was a complete game throughout. We came out and played well."
The Pioneers killed off two UMass Lowell power plays in the first period. Sacred Heart went on the power play for the second time with 4:40 left in the first, but only managed two shots. A late rush in the last two minutes saw shots from Erlich Doerksen (Toronto, Ont.), Justin Danforth (Oshawa, Ontario), and Brian Sheehan (St. Louis, Mo.) all stopped by Hellebuyck as Sacred Heart took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
Sacred Heart withstood an early UMass Lowell barrage in the second period to keep the score 1-0. Vazzano made a key save with 15:52 left in the period, sprawling to his right to stop a wraparound try. Back in the other end of the ice, Danforth put a shot off the post that almost went over the goal line but was confirmed by video replay to not be the Pioneers' second goal at the 15:15 mark. The River Hawks had their best chance to tie the game with 3:00 left in the period. With Sacred Heart on the power play, Joe Gambardella took the puck on a change and charged right in on Vazzano all alone. The Pioneers goalie was equal to the task, stopping the shot to keep the game 1-0 heading into the third period.
UMass Lowell had two power plays in the first three minutes of the third, but still could not get on the scoreboard. The River Hawks had a chance to tie with 16:20 to play when Ryan McGrath found the puck on his stick right in front of the goal. However, three Pioneers dived to keep the puck out of the net and keep the score 1-0. UMass Lowell tied the game with 15:36 remaining when Joe Pendenza re-directed a Michael Kapla shot. Sacred Heart took back the lead at the 14:11 mark. Lake won a faceoff in the River Hawks end to George, who snapped a shot past Hellebuyck to give the Pioneers a 2-1 lead. Sacred Heart's defense made the lead stick as Vazzano made three key saves in the last two minutes to give the Pioneers' their history-making win.
Sacred Heart hosts the #15 Rensselaer Engineers for the home opener Saturday at 1 p.m. at Webster Bank Arena. Admission is free for Saturday's game.