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UMass-Lowell Hockey Has Finishing Touch

Wetmore’s OT Strike Sends Miami Packing

Jessica Hill/AP
Somewhere in this happy River Hawk scrum is Riley Wetmore, who scored at 2:13 of overtime. (Jessica Hill/Associated Press)

Boston Globe
By Michael Vega

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - They each offered their own unique take on UMass-Lowell’s exciting 4-3 overtime victory over Miami Friday night in an NCAA East Regional semifinal.

They each chose their words carefully after the 13th-ranked River Hawks (24-12-1) drew a step closer to their first Frozen Four by earning a berth in the regional final against Union, a 3-1 winner over Michigan State.

“Obviously, we’re excited to get an opportunity to play in the championship game,’’ said UMass-Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “It was a goal of ours and we’re realizing that now.’’

But what best described the moment for the players?

“I’d say enjoyment,’’ said junior Colin Wright, who converted a turnover into a shorthanded goal that gave Lowell a 2-0 lead at 14:58 of the first period (Josh Holstrom’s power-play tally at 1:34 opened the scoring).

“Nobody really saw us here at the start of our year, but I knew we had a good group in our room,’’ Wright said. “Now is a good time to have a lot of fun, and to enjoy these moments.’’

“I’d say determination,’’ offered junior captain Riley Wetmore, who scored Lowell’s third goal at 2:21 of the second period and notched the winner 2:13 into overtime.

“We’ve just got to finish games,’’ Wetmore said. “Like we saw tonight, and we’re going to see tomorrow night. We have to play a whole 60 minutes - even longer than 60 minutes if necessary - but we just have to come ready and play our game the whole game.’’

On the winning goal, David Vallorani had his shot blocked in front, but the puck found its way to Wetmore, who fired on net from the slot and then poked his own rebound past netminder Connor Knapp (24 saves).

Lowell sophomore goaltender Doug Carr made 30 saves, including 15 in the third period (eight of the Grade-A variety). He made four stops in the final 3:35 of regulation as the River Hawks had to kill a five-minute major by Jake Suter for checking from behind.

“I think, obviously, losing in the [Hockey East] playoffs [against Providence] woke us up a little bit and we kind of got a second chance here,’’ Carr said. “Like we said, we’re not just happy to be here. We worked hard all year to get here and we’re not looking to play one game, and go home happy just to have been here. We’re hungry and we’re trying to win a championship, game by game.’’

Relief was a word that could have been used after the River Hawks saw a 3-0 lead after two periods evaporate in a calamitous third period.

“We got away from our game plan a little bit, and they scored a shorthanded goal and a power-play goal to [put us] down, 2-0,’’ said Miami coach Enrico Blasi. “I thought we had a good shift at the end of the first and I felt we were starting to get a little momentum and then we make a poor decision and now, all of a sudden, it’s 3-0.

“From that point on, I thought our guys started to come back a little bit,’’ Blasi said. “I thought we started getting pucks by their defensemen. But that’s the way these games go. You have two good teams going at it.’’

The No. 7 Redhawks (24-15-2) erupted for two goals 14 seconds apart early in the third period. Trent Vogelhuber struck at 3:06 and Austin Czarnik found the net at 3:20. Then Miami senior captain Alden Hirschfeld tied it at 9:56 with his 11th goal of the season.

On the tying goal, Miami’s Steven Spinell stepped out of the penalty box and found the puck at his feet. He fed it to Hirschfeld along the right boards, and he broke in alone on Carr and flipped a backhander high on the stick side.

“We were all over them the third period,’’ said Hirschfeld, who had a team-high eight shots.

It appeared Miami had the River Hawks at a tipping point when Suter drew his penalty, that extended into the first 1:25 of OT.

When Miami was unable to capitalize on the man advantage, pinging one off the pipes at the start of OT, UMass-Lowell seized momentum.

Bazin told his players that the game would soon belong to them.

“I thought, quite honestly, the five-minute major woke us up and made the guys bear down,’’ Bazin said. “I said, ‘If we kill this off, it’s going to go our way,’ and thankfully it did.’’