While the men's basketball team was rightfully stealing all our attention over the weekend with their tournament run, Notre Dame hockey saw its season come to an end with a three-game loss to UMass-Lowell in the Hockey East quarterfinals.
The first game of the series, a 5-0 loss, went very poorly for the Irish. Cal Petersen gave up five goals (on just 22 shots) in the first two periods before being yanked for Chad Katunar. ND's offense couldn't muster up much of a challenge, getting only 21 shots on net themselves. Lowell scored barely a minute into each period and fired in the fifth goal just a couple of minutes into the second period. ND also committed six penalties to Lowell's two, though the River Hawks didn't score on the power play. Neither Mario Lucia nor Vince Hinostroza had shots, and both were -4 for the game. All around, this was just an ugly performance.
Notre Dame bounced back with a huge third period in Saturday's second game, rallying for the last three goals of a 4-2 win. The Irish didn't take a lead until halfway through the third period, when Mario Lucia scored the game-winner, but it was enough to force the decisive third game. Sam Herr got ND on the board late in the second period to tie the game, but the Irish went into the final frame down by one. However, the visitors dominated the last 20 minutes behind goals by Anders Bjork, Lucia and Peter Schneider, who scored an empty-netter in the final seconds. Lucia was the only Irish player with two points on the night as ND spread the wealth effectively on offense. Cal Petersen was much better in net for ND, making 25 saves.
Despite a Herculean effort from senior Robbie Russo in his final game, ND's Hockey East run ended Sunday afternoon with a 6-4 loss at Lowell. The River Hawks again dominated the first period, rolling out to a 4-1 lead. The lead ballooned to 6-2 late in the second before Petersen was again yanked for Katunar after making only seven saves, putting a very bad end to what was an outstanding overall campaign for the freshman netminder.
Russo, meanwhile, had ND's first two goals and assisted on the other two in a desperate attempt to get his team back in the game. In total the senior had eight shots. Peter Schneider and Jordan Gross put in third-period scores to get the lead down to two with five minutes to go, but that was as close as ND could get. Bjork had two assists in the game as well.
Lowell's Zack Kamrass had two pivotal goals, specifically the ones that made it 4-1 and 6-2. Lowell goalie Kevin Boyle played a great game, making 32 saves. ND outshot the River Hawks 36-17, but poor defense and goaltending was the difference in this one for the Irish.
The end of a season is never a happy time, particularly when it's a losing season like ND's 18-19-5 ledger. However, the bright side is that Russo went out playing his very best, and Schneider and Austin Wuthrich, the only other two seniors that played significant minutes this season, also were statistically productive over the weekend. The Irish have a lot of youth and showed tremendous sparks this season, particularly in February with great efforts against BU and Boston College. They have a goaltender in Petersen and they have offensive talent to burn with Lucia, Hinostroza, Thomas DiPauli, and more coming back. Coach Jeff Jackson has to be excited about what awaits him when the season starts up next fall. Until then, we'll just dream.