Despite not being able to score a goal until midway through the third period, UMass Lowell took the Hockey East Championship as its goalie, Connor Hellebuyck, stole the show.
Hellebuyck led the River Hawks to victory over Boston University, 1-0, Saturday night at the TD Garden.
The Commerce, MI native made timely saves all night, keeping the Boston University offensive attack at bay. The Winnipeg Jets prospect made 36 saves and kept the lethal Boston University power-play off the board, posting his fifth shutout of the season.
“Connor has been phenomenal, and you don’t win a championship without a great goalie,” UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin said.
“Tonight I thought Connor was spectacular, and he made key stops at key moments to keep the game tied [before we scored]. You can’t say enough about the kid. He was the difference tonight.”
Hellebuyck continued what he has done all season, which is play lights out. Despite being a freshman, he does not get rattled easily, even when playing BU in Jack Parker’s final game.
“Connor’s poise and calm demeanor are by far his strongest assets, and that ricochets into a domino effect right down the line to the defensemen and forwards,” Bazin said. “He gives you a chance to win every night and that is all you can ask for.”
At the other end of the ice, BU’s freshman goalie was not off his game. Sean Maguire made 28 saves and did not let in a goal until nearly midway through the third period. Maguire stepped up when his team needed him this season, especially when his tandem partner, Matt O’Connor ,went down with an injury.
“Sean had a really good freshman year, and he was one of many really good freshman goaltenders [in Hockey East],” BU coach Jack Parker said.
“He was playing every other game, but I thought he played his best hockey when his stable mate Matt O’Connor went down. He played very well after that, and he took us to a different level. He certainly gave us a chance to win tonight.”
UMass Lowell finally got the game's only goal at the 11:09 mark of the third period, as Derek Arnold was able to wrap the puck around from behind the goal and into the vacant BU net. Scott Wilson and Chad Ruhwedel picked up the helpers on the goal.
“It was kind of just a broken play because it went off of [Scott Wilson’s] skate,” Arnold said. “Maguire just came out of the net a little bit too much, and I saw some daylight. When I went to wrap it around, he was still out of [position].”
With less than five minutes left in the game Wilson continued to make key plays for the River Hawks after scoring the game winner vs. Providence to reach the final. Wilson got into the shooting lane of Matt Nieto as he slid across the ice to block Nieto’s slapper.
“I had a tough start, but after [the Arnold] goal all the guys were just giving everything,” Wilson said. “I just did everything I could to get in front of [the puck]. All the guys know their roles, but we all try and do the little things. Blocking shots like that is one of those things.”
Maguire was pulled with 1:45 remaining in the third. BU swarmed Hellebuyck, but the freshman goalie remained poised, just like he has all season, to preserve the win. He gave UMass Lowell its first-ever Hockey East championship.
In the handshake line following the game, Arnold got a good laugh out of coach Parker.
“[Derek] said that he wished he played for me, and I told him that I wished he did too,” Parker said.
Parker finishes his career with 897 wins, third all time in the college ranks.
Follow Rich Murray on Twitter via @richie_murray