For the third time in five years, the River Hawks were crowned Hockey East Tournament Champions after defeating Boston College, 4-3, on March 18 at the TD Garden in Boston in front of more than 12,000 fans.
Junior forward C.J. Smith was named the Hockey East Championship Most Valuable Player after scoring two goals and setting up two others during the weekend pair of games.
“Wow, wow,” says Head Coach Norm Bazin. “It is such a relief; the guys bent in the third period, but they didn’t break. I am very, very proud of this group. It’s been an excellent year. The 22-game regular season is brutal in Hockey East and anybody can beat anybody. To beat Boston College three times in one year is a great feat, and I would like to congratulate them on a great season.”
Smith, senior teammates Joe Gambardella and Michael Kapla and freshman goaltender Tyler Wall were also named to the Hockey East All-Tournament Team.
The team would go on to defeat Cornell, 5-0, in the NCAA Northeast Regional Semifinals on March 25 at the SNHU Arena to advance to the regional finals for the seventh time in program history.
With eyes set on a national title, the team took on Notre Dame on March 26, but succumbed in a gritty overtime battle to Notre Dame in a 3-2 heartbreaker in the NCAA Northeast Regional Final. Senior defenseman Michael Kapla and freshman forward Ryan Lohin were named to the Northeast Regional All-Tournament Team.
UMass Lowell finished out the season with a 27-11-3 record. The 27 wins are the second most in the school’s 34-year history as a Division I program.
It was a great year, and this River Hawk senior class rounded out its impressive career with 99 wins — the most by a Hockey East club during the four-year period — and became the second winningest class in Division I history at UMass Lowell.
Gambardella recently signed a two-year, entry-level contract, effective for the 2017-18 season, with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers.
He won the Walter Brown Award this season, given annually to the top American-born college player in New England. Gambardella is the first player from UMass Lowell to win this award. He was also honored by Hockey East as a second-team All-Star, a member of the Hockey East All-Tournament Team and the winner of the Len Ceglarski Sportsmanship Award for the second consecutive season.
Gambardella scored 128 points during his collegiate career and ranks ninth all-time on the UMass Lowell Division I scoring list.
Kapla and Smith have also signed on with NHL clubs — Kapla with the New Jersey Devils and Smith, who is forgoing his senior year, with the Buffalo Sabres.
Bazin, after guiding the River Hawks to 27 wins, a third Hockey East Tournament Championship and the program’s fifth trip in six years to the NCAA Tournament, was named a finalist for the Spencer Penrose Award as the Division I Coach of the Year. Bazin, a past recipient of this award, was also named the 2017 Bob Kullen Award winner as the Hockey East Coach of the Year for the third time in six years.