Hellebuyck backstops UMass Lowell to 2-1 win over Minnesota State

By Richard Murray

Connor Hellebuyck - University of Massachusetts Lowell

Photo: UMass Lowell goaltender and Winnipeg Jets prospect Connor Hellebuyck makes a pad save on Minnesota State’s Chase Grant in the River Hawks 2-1 win at the NCAA Northeast Regional (courtesy of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

There’s an old adage in sports that defense wins championships, and with Connor Hellebuyck in net, UMass Lowell doesn’t lose many big games.

Hellebuyck and the River Hawks shutdown the Minnesota State attack, beating the Mavericks 2-1 in the NCAA Northeast Regional semifinal.

“We knew that (Hellebuyck) was going to be good and he was,” Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings said. “For us to put 35 shots on net, have second and third opportunities, hats off to (Hellebuyck).”

UMass Lowell and Boston College will duke it out tomorrow to decide who makes the trip to Philadelphia for the Frozen Four.

It was a goaltender's duel as both netminders were locked in throughout the contest. Hellebuyck allowed a goal with 10.8 seconds remaining, and Minnesota State goalie Cole Huggins just couldn’t stop one shorthanded breakaway from UMass Lowell pivot Joseph Pendenza. An empty-net goal for the River Hawks was the difference maker.

Hellebuyck is rarely off his game, and the Commerce, MI native stood on his head, especially in the second period where he turned away all 16 shots. He finished the game with 34 saves.

“He’s a great goalie, and you don’t win anything special without a goalie like that.” UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin said. “He’s a calming presence, and he’s done a great job for us.

Huggins locked in after allowing the first period goal to Pendenza. UMass Lowell pushed hard in the third period to extend their lead, but it could not be done with the Centennial, CO native between the pipes. Huggins finished with 34 saves, stopping nearly everything thrown his way.

“Huggins gave us an opportunity to not be too far behind,” Hastings said. “This (was) Cole being Cole. Everyone is talking about the guy who won the game, which is well deserved, but if you stack Cole’s numbers the past 14 games, they’re comparable.”

In the third period, Huggins somehow kept the puck out of the goal as the River Hawks crashed the net on the power play. The goal light went on, but video review confirmed that the puck never crossed the goal line.

Pendenza, a senior, is one of the best two-way players at the NCAA level, and the Everett, MA native came up big on special teams. He blocked a shot and then had a shorthanded breakaway goal at 12:45 in the first period.

“I just went out there with a long stick, he shot it at my body,” Pendenza said. “I got a breakaway, faked one way and put it five hole.”

“He’s an excellent hockey player,” Bazin said of Pendenza. “He’s someone that will be missed because he fills in so many roles. He’s a top two-way center, and he’s our top two-way player.”

With just over a minute remaining, the Mavericks pulled Huggins for the extra attacker. Unfortunately for Minnesota State, River Hawks defenseman Zack Kamrass fired the puck into the vacant goal from his own defensive zone.

Minnesota State finally beat Hellebuyck after the Kamrass goal, as Zach Stepan found the twine with seconds remaining. It was too little, too late though, as the River Hawks didn’t panic.
“We were calm, collected and know what we needed to do,” Hellebuyck said. “We know what to do.”

Follow Rich Murray on Twitter via @Richie_Murray