By Carmine Frongillo
BOSTON -- The long climb up the ladder of success is officially over for UMass Lowell's hockey program. After 29 years in Hockey East, the River Hawks have finally broken through the clouds, soaring to new heights.
UMass Lowell has not only taken flight under the direction of second-year head coach Norm Bazin, the River Hawks continue to gain altitude with every victory.
Freshman Connor Hellebuyck was immense in goal, stopping 36 shots, as UMass Lowell blanked longtime nemesis Boston University, 1-0, Saturday night at the TD Garden before a crowd of 13,738 to capture its first Hockey East Tournament championship.
This was the River Hawks' third-ever appearance in the Hockey East final, with all three appearances coming against BU. The Terriers beat UMass Lowell, 1-0, in 2009, and 3-2 in 1994.
Hellebuyck was named the tournament MVP for his stellar effort, which included some huge point-blank stops in the final minute of the game.
With 8:51 left to play, Derek Arnold scored his 12th goal of the season, and perhaps the biggest tally in UMass Lowell history, beating BU goalie Sean Maguire (28 saves) with a wrap-around shot. From now on, it's safe to assume Arnold will never have to pay for his beverage of choice at any watering hole in Greater Lowell whenever he's in the presence of a River Hawk fan.
Saturday's win was not only something to savor for the current edition of the River Hawks, it was a monumental victory for all those UMass Lowell stars who came before them, from Mike Carr to Craig MacTavish to Jon Morris to Dwayne Roloson to Greg Bullock to Ben Walter to Scott Campbell. These guys laid the foundation for what was a truly historic evening of legacy-leaving for the River Hawks.
Next up for UMass Lowell (26-10-2), who also captured their first-ever Hockey East regular-season crown this winter, is a berth in the upcoming NCAA Division 1 Tournament. The seedings for the road to the Frozen Four will be announced Sunday at 9 p.m. on ESPNU. UMass Lowell is scheduled to hold a viewing party at the Sport Zone in Dracut that's slated to begin at 8:30 p.m.
The River Hawks likely secured a top seed at one of the four regional sites -- Manchester, N.H., Providence, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Toledo, Ohio -- with Saturday's win.
While the River Hawks are ushering in a new era on Bazin's watch, UMass Lowell's win in all likelihood ended the career of legendary Boston University bench boss Jack Parker. The Terriers (21-16-2) aren't expected to get an NCAA Tournament bid.
No matter what, UMass Lowell spoiled Parker's final Garden Party. In 40 years at BU, Parker has guided the Terriers to three national titles, seven Hockey East crowns, four ECAC titles, 21 Beanpots and 897 wins.
UMass Lowell won all four games against BU this season. During the regular season, the River Hawks swept past the Terriers, winning 4-3 on Jan. 19, 3-0 on Feb. 22 and 3-1 on Feb. 23.
Championship hockey teams are built from goal on out, and in Hellebuyck the River Hawks have a goalie who allows them to go out and play without any fear of their mistakes ending up in the net. Hellebuyck entered Saturday's title game with a tournament-best 1.32 goals-against-average and a .950 save-percentage. He improved both of those eye-catching stats with a performance that will long be remembered by anyone who pledges allegiance to the River Hawks.
Bazin, the winner of the 2013 Bob Kullen Hockey East Coach of the Year Award, is the first head coach to win the title in his first trip to the championship game since 1998, when BC's Jerry York won his initial Hockey East Tournament crown.