By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
WORCESTER — Josh Holmstrom walked up to the postgame press conference looking crushed. His eyes were red-rimmed, his expression that of someone who had just had his hockey stick taken away.
The UMass-Lowell captain, whose collegiate career ended with a 4-3 loss to Boston College in the NCAA Northeast Regional final at the DCU Center Sunday night, tried to put into words what it was like to miss out on a second straight trip to the Frozen Four after elevating the program to unprecedented heights last season.
“It’s pretty special to be a part of the group that I was,’’ said Holmstrom. “Coming back after our freshman year was obviously tough [after winning only five games]. I think it was the right class to go about it. There are a lot of strong guys in there.’’
Coach Norm Bazin said it was still raw for everyone, but he praised how well his team handled everything.
“I’m very proud of our guys,’’ said Bazin. “There’s a lot of resiliency in that locker room. There’s a lot of character. I’m very, very proud of that senior class who battled back from a real adverse situation their first season to come back with three excellent years. Right now, it’s hard to swallow but in time, they’ll realize they were part of some pretty good teams.’’
One of the most important members of the team, particularly for the last three years, has been senior center Joe Pendenza, who was the River Hawks’ leading scorer this season and was a complete player.
“Joe’s grown tremendously in the four years as has everybody,’’ said Holmstrom. “But his play, he’s just so steady every single night that guys look to him for his leadership and he’s been a phenomenal player and I was very fortunate to play on a line with him the last two years. He’s got a very bright future.’’
So does the UMass-Lowell hockey program.
“It’s come a long way,’’ said Bazin. “I think the culture of the program is in good shape. I feel the guys holding each other accountable. They are certainly a bunch who want to continue to get better. I feel the senior class has really helped that along. It’s a very tight-knit group and I think we have a lot of building blocks to work from. We feel very good about our program.’’
River Hawks goalie Connor Hellebuyck had been spectacular in March, but looked mortal against the Eagles. Prior to playing BC, Hellebuyck had a shutout streak of 201 minutes, 45 seconds that ended in the waning seconds of UMass-Lowell’s 2-1 victory over Minnesota State in Saturday’s Northeast Regional semifinal . . . Over the course of the weekend, BC’s top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold, and Kevin Hayes combined for 19 points in the two games. Gaudreau had three goals and five assists, Hayes three goals and four assists, and Arnold two goals and two assists . . . Freshman goaltender Thatcher Demko improved his record to 16-4-3. The 18-year-old native of San Diego has a low-key demeanor but he’s proud to be going to his first Frozen Four. “It made it a lot easier having the type of leaders that we have on our team,’’ said Demko. “The four seniors who have been through it, they lead by example, on and off the ice. So it made it a lot easier for all the freshmen to come in and play as well as they did.”
Justin Kloos had a pair goals and Adam Wilcox made 24 saves to power No. 1 seed Minnesota past Saint Cloud, 4-0, to earn a spot in the Frozen Four with a victory in the West Regional final in St. Paul.
Minnesota (27-6-6) will face North Dakota in the Frozen Four semifinals in Philadelphia on April 10.
The Gophers are making their third trip to the Frozen Four since winning national titles in 2002 and 2003.
Kloos opened the scoring on a wraparound with 8:51 to go in the first period. Seth Ambroz and Kloos scored in the second period, and Kyle Rau capped the scoring with a power-play goal in the third.