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Connor Hellebuyck stays hot, UMass-Lowell advances to regional final with win over Minnesota State

03.29.14 at 10:06 pm ET
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WORCESTER — The Connor Hellebuyck show keeps on rolling. After winning his second straight Hockey East tournament MVP award following back-to-back shutouts at TD Garden, the sophomore netminder stopped 35 of the 36 shots he faced Saturday to lead UMass-Lowell to a 2-1 win over Minnesota State in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Unlike last weekend, the River Hawks needed Hellebuyck to be perfect — or very close to it — Saturday. That’€™s not to say they didn’€™t appreciate his performance at the Garden (they did), or that he wasn’€™t the best player there (he was), but when the offense scores eight goals in two games, it’€™s probably safe to assume the team would’€™ve been just fine if Hellebuyck had made a mistake or two.

But against Minnesota State, there was no margin for error. For most of the game, the lone goal on the scoreboard was a shorthanded breakaway tally from Joe Pendenza midway through the first period, but this wasn’€™t one of those boring low-scoring games that features a ton of neutral-zone play.

The teams went up and down the ice quite a bit, and there were plenty of great chances at both ends, especially in the second period. But both goalies were outstanding (Minnesota State’s Cole Huggins made 33 saves), as fans witnessed a thrilling goaltending duel.

“The fans definitely didn’t get cheated tonight,” said Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “They were treated to an exceptional hockey game. Chances for both sides. I thought both goalies were very, very strong from the onset.” Read the rest of this entry »

Tommy Amaker to remain at Harvard

03.29.14 at 8:07 pm ET
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Tommy Amaker will remain at Harvard, the school announced Saturday. His name had been mentioned as a possible replacement for Steve Donahue at Boston College, but Saturday’s announcement closes that door.

“After thoughtful deliberation, I continue to realize my heart is at Harvard,” Amaker said in a statement. “To teach, lead and serve at this amazing institution, and in this special community, is truly meaningful to me.”

Amaker has led Harvard to three straight NCAA tournaments and back-to-back trips to the round of 32. This year, the 12th-seeded Crimson upset Cincinnati in the round of 64 before falling to Michigan State.

“Tommy is a great leader, a great coach and a great educator,” said Harvard athletic director Bob Scalise. “He is an inspiration to many in the Harvard community. We are excited he will continue to lead our men’s basketball program.”

Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Hayes lead BC to blowout win over Denver in NCAA opener

03.29.14 at 6:34 pm ET
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WORCESTER — Call it a showcase. Call it a statement. Whatever it was, it was incredible to watch. Boston College‘€™s top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes has been the best line in college hockey ever since Jerry York put them together on Dec. 6, but what they did in Saturday’€™s 6-2 win over Denver in the first round of the NCAA tournament may have been their best performance yet.

It seemed like a pretty safe bet that the Eagles would come out flying considering the way their Hockey East season ended — with a disappointing quarterfinal loss to Notre Dame that snapped their streak of nine straight trips to the conference semifinals. They’€™d be hungry, and because their coach is Jerry York, they’€™d obviously be prepared.

But BC, led by its top line, took ‘€œgetting off to a good start’€ to another level. It took just 25 seconds for that trio to get the Eagles on the board. Hayes won a 1-on-1 battle in the corner before sending a nifty behind-the-back pass to Gaudreau for the finish.

Five minutes later, it was Hayes taking over again. He carried the puck slowly toward the point before cutting hard to the net, charging down the slot and beating Denver goalie Sam Brittain with a quick move to the forehand.

(As an aside, if you haven’€™t watched much of BC this year, you might be inclined to think Hayes’€™ stats — he ranks second in the country in points — are a product of playing with Gaudreau. But Hayes is just as capable of taking over a shift or game, something that was pretty evident Saturday. Hayes, a Blackhawks first-round pick, also projects as the better pro thanks to his power-forward frame.)

Four minutes after Hayes’€™ goal, it was Gaudreau’€™s turn to wow the crowd with a great individual effort. The Hobey Baker favorite (and let’€™s be honest, it’€™s pretty safe to just start calling him the winner) took a pass from Arnold at center ice, blew by Denver defenseman David Makowski down the left wing and beat Brittain on a wraparound. Read the rest of this entry »

Providence advances to regional final with blowout win over Quinnipiac

03.28.14 at 8:59 pm ET
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Providence reached the NCAA tournament for the first since 2001 this season, and now the Friars are heading to the national quarterfinals for the first time since 1989 after beating Quinnipiac, 4-0, Friday in a first-round game in Bridgeport, Conn.

Flames draft pick Jon Gillies made 37 saves to pick up his fourth shutout of the season, while fellow Calgary prospect Mark Jankowski opened the scoring 3:37 into the game. Anthony Florentino, Shane Luke and Trevor Mingoia all added goals in the second period to put the game well out of reach.

The win sets up a regional final against Union (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET), one full of interesting storylines. Friars coach Nate Leaman was Union’s head coach for eight years before leaving for Providence in 2011, and he helped lead the Dutchmen to their first-ever NCAA tournament appearance in his final season there.

His replacement at Union was Rick Bennett, who had been on Leaman’s staff for his last six years there. Bennett has led the Dutchmen to NCAAs in each of his three seasons at the helm and now has a chance to take them to their second Frozen Four in the last three years.

Perhaps even more interesting for the purposes of  Saturday’s game is that Bennett played at Providence and is a member of the PC Athletics Hall of Fame. He later spent five years as an assistant with the Friars.

With a win over Union, Providence would reach its first Frozen Four since 1985, when it fell to Rensselaer in the national championship game.

Vermont falls to Union in first round of NCAA tournament

03.28.14 at 5:03 pm ET
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Vermont’s first NCAA tournament game since 2010 didn’t go well at all. The Catamounts took eight penalties and got outshot, 39-25, as they fell to Union, 5-2, Friday afternoon at the East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn.

Union, the ECAC champion and No. 1 seed in the region, opened the scoring 4:15 into the first on a shorthanded goal by Matt Hatch. Vermont captain Chris McCarthy tied the game with 6:42 left in the first, but Max Novak reclaimed the lead for the Dutchmen just 1:09 later on a power-play tally.

Novak struck again on the power play late in the second to make it 3-1, and then Mat Bodie scored midway through the third to make it a three-goal lead. McCarthy cut the lead to 4-2 with his second goal of the game (and 18th of the season) before Hatch sealed the win for Union with an empty-netter.

The Catamounts never really gave themselves a chance in the first two periods, as they took four penalties in each frame and found themselves trailing in shots, 31-12, heading into the third.

Despite the disappointing finish, Vermont fans have to be encouraged by the team’s turnaround this year. After back-to-back NCAA appearances in 2009 and 2010 (including a Frozen Four appearance in ’09), the Catamounts won eight games in 2010-11, six in 2011-12 and 11 in 2012-13 before jumping up to 20 this season.

They will have some retooling to do for next year, as they graduate their leading scorer in McCarthy, as well as mainstays Connor Brickley, H.T. Lenz and Nick Bruneteau. There’s also a chance that junior defenseman Michael Paliotta, a Blackhawks draft pick, could turn pro, although it doesn’t sound like that’s expected.

Freshman sensation Mario Puskarich – the Hockey East Rookie of the Year — will be back, though, as will goalie Brody Hoffman.

UMass football to leave MAC after 2015 season

03.26.14 at 3:17 pm ET
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UMass’ football team will leave the Mid-American Conference after the 2015 season, the school announced Wednesday.

Athletic director John McCutcheon said the decision was made after the MAC exercised a contract clause that offered UMass full-time membership in the conference for all sports. If UMass declined the offer, it would be able to remain a football-only member for just two more years. The school declined and will now leave the league after the 2015 season.

“While the report is not complete,” McCutcheon said, “we believe full membership for all sports in the MAC is not a good fit for us. Because most of the MAC schools are in the Midwest, the additional travel would strain our athletic budget and pose considerable time management challenges for our student athletes. We are confident that, within the next two years, we will find a more suitable conference for our FBS football program.”

“We remain committed to FBS football,” McCutcheon added. “Many institutions have successfully navigated this challenging period of conference realignment and we will do the same.”

In its first two seasons in the MAC (and FBS), UMass went 2-14 in conference play and 2-22 overall. The school changed coaches after this past season when it fired Charley Molnar and brought back Mark Whipple, who led the team to a Division I-AA national championship in 1998.

Celtics assistant Walter McCarty expresses interest in BC job

03.25.14 at 1:27 pm ET
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Celtics assistant coach Walter McCarty is not hiding his interest in the Boston College coaching vacancy.

McCarty, a University of Kentucky product who played 7 1/2 of his 11 NBA seasons in Boston, joined the Celtics this season after serving as an assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville for three years (2007-10) and then working one year as a Pacers assistant under Jim O’Brien in 2010-11.

“I’m very interested,” McCarty told the Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett. “I want to be highly considered. I love the city. I have great ties in the city. I have a great foundation here, especially with recruiting.

“If you look at Louisville’s 2013 national championship team, four of those five starters were my guys. So I’m very confident in my ability to coach and lead a program. I think that I’m ready.”

Added McCarty: “This city loves basketball, and that’€™s a great university. I think the people in the area and the students can be re-engaged with the basketball program. There’€™s a good fan base. It just needs to be revived and be resurrected with the right person in place who can re-engage the community, who can engage the fan base and bring them back together.

“And it also has to be a person who can bring players to campus who will be a part of not just the program, but the community. I think if you bring the right type of players here and put a good product on the floor, you can do that.”

Read More: Walter McCarty,

Harvard’s tourney run ends vs. Michigan State

03.22.14 at 11:29 pm ET
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Harvard rallied from a 16-point second-half deficit to take a two-point lead with just over seven minutes to play, but fourth-seeded Michigan State recovered and ended the Crimson’s season with a 80-73 decision Saturday night in an NCAA tournament game in Spokane, Wash.

Branden Dawson scored 26 points on 12-of-15 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds for the Spartans (28-8), who advance to play the winner of Sunday’s Virginia-Memphis game in next week’s East Regional semifinals. Gary Harris added 18 points and five assists, and he hit a pair of big 3-pointers down the stretch.

Wesley Saunders scored 22 points for 12th-seeded Harvard (27-5). Brandyn Curry came off the bench to score 12 points, Steve Moundou-Missi had 11 points and 11 rebounds, and Siyani Chambers contributed 10 points and four assists.

The Crimson trailed by 12 at the half and then 16 at 49-33 after a Dawson dunk 2 1/2 minutes into the second period, and it appeared they would not be able to keep up with the talented Spartans, a popular pick to win the tournament. It was again a 16-point margin at 52-36 with under 16 minutes remaining when Harvard started its comeback with a pair of Curry 3-pointers. That began a 19-3 run that was capped by a Saunders steal and dunk that tied the game at 55 with nine minutes to play.

Harris hit a trey to put the Spartans back up by three, but Harvard kept up the pressure and grabbed the lead at 62-60 on a 3-pointer from the corner by Laurent Rivard with just over seven minutes left.

Travis Trice had the answer for Michigan State on its ensuing possession, hitting a 3-pointer that put his team ahead to stay. Harris hit a trey with 5:37 left to cap an 8-0 run, and Michigan State was back in control with a 68-62 lead. Harvard could get no closer than four the rest of the way, and Michigan State hit 7-of-8 free throws in the final minute to put the game out of reach.

After surviving the scare, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo was highly complimentary of his counterpart and good friend, Tommy Amaker.

“He did a heck of a job with that team,” Izzo said in a TNT on-court interview after the game. “I told my guys in four huddles, ‘They are not going to quit, man. I know this guy.’ Give him a lot of credit. We did some goofy things, but boy, the way they came back, they played so hard, they got their hands in passing lanes. I give a lot of credit to Harvard.”

Harvard was coming of an upset of fifth-seeded Cincinnati on Thursday, its second-ever NCAA tournament victory — and second in two years. Michigan State, meanwhile, is making its 12th Sweet 16 appearance in the last 17 years.

UMass-Lowell dominates UNH, wins second straight Hockey East title

03.22.14 at 9:29 pm ET
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Making mistakes is bad. Making them against UMass-Lowell, a structurally sound team that rarely makes any mistakes of its own, is even worse. And making them in a conference championship game against UMass-Lowell is worst of all.

The River Hawks scored two goals off New Hampshire mistakes in the first period Saturday night, and that was all they needed to win their second straight Hockey East tournament title. They tacked on two more goals to make it a 4-0 final, ending UNH’s season in the process.

“It’s huge for the program,” said senior forward Joe Pendenza, who had three assists Saturday night. “It’s tough to explain how it’s been and how it feels. After our freshman year, we had our doubts. We won five games. We weren’t sure what was going to happen with a new coach coming in.

“The one common thing coming out of that was that we never wanted to experience that again. We wanted to win. We wanted to do something. We’ve been very fortunate to do something special here.”

Lowell’€™s first goal came with 7:48 left in the first period. Nick Sorkin failed to clear the zone, and goaltender Casey DeSmith compounded the problem by failing to cover a bad-angle shot from Pendenza. Sophomore forward A.J. White (1 goal, 2 assists) made the Wildcats pay by flipping the loose puck past DeSmith.

The River Hawks capitalized on another mistake three minutes later. UNH defenseman Brett Pesce held onto the puck a split second too long, allowing Josh Holmstrom to tie him up and force a turnover. White grabbed the puck and fed Pendenza on the doorstep, but DeSmith made a great diving save. Unfortunately, no one from UNH was there to clear the rebound, and Holmstrom finished off the play he started.

Lowell didn’€™t need any more offense after that, but it got two more goals in the second when Joe Gambardella and then Jake Suter found the back of the net. In a perfect illustration of the team’s balanced scoring and offensive depth, the River Hawks ended the weekend with eight goals from eight different players.

“It’s been a point of emphasis since I arrived,” Lowell coach Norm Bazin said of the depth. “I think to have a great team at Lowell, you have to have multiple threats. We don’t have the 50- or 60-point guy, but we have an awful lot of good hockey players. We feel if it can come from any line, it makes us a real threat.”

The four goals were more than enough given the fact the River Hawks had Connor Hellebuyck in net. The sophomore goalie made 30 saves to pick up his second shutout in as many nights, and his third in a row at TD Garden dating back to last year’€™s championship game against Boston University. The Jets draft pick was named tournament MVP for the second year in a row, making him the first player in league history to earn that honor twice.

“Connor’s stellar. There’s no question that you don’t win a championship without a good goalie,” Bazin said. “He’s provided us with great goaltending all year. Dougie Carr has had an exceptional season also. It’s just that we’ve got Connor. We feel either one of them can give us a great start, and Connor’s been carrying the ball here lately.”

UPDATE: The River Hawks will head to Worcester next weekend for the Northeast Regional, where they will take on Minnesota State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. They could potentially meet Boston College in the regional final.

Here is the complete NCAA bracket:

West Regional (St. Paul)
1. Minnesota vs. 16. Robert Morris
8. Notre Dame vs. 9. St. Cloud State

Northeast Regional (Worcester)
2. Boston College vs. 15. Denver
7. UMass-Lowell vs. 10. Minnesota State

East Regional (Bridgeport)
3. Union vs. 13. Vermont
6. Quinnipiac vs. 11. Providence

Midwest Regional (Cincinnati)
4. Wisconsin vs. 14. North Dakota
5. Ferris State vs. 12. Colgate

UNH beats Providence to reach first Hockey East title game since 2007

03.21.14 at 10:38 pm ET
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The 2008 and 2010 New Hampshire teams that won the regular-season title didn’€™t get here. The 2009, 2011 and 2013 squads that had a spot in the NCAA tournament locked up didn’€™t get here either. But the 2014 Wildcats team, one that finished fourth in the regular season, and one that needs a conference title just to qualify for NCAAs, is heading to the Hockey East championship game, a place the program hasn’€™t been since 2007.

The Wildcats beat Providence 3-1 in Friday night’€™s semifinals, led by their top scorer, Kevin Goumas. The senior center scored twice in the game, giving him five goals in his last two games, 24 points in his last 13, and 52 points in 39 games on the season. The Wildcats will take on defending champion UMass-Lowell Saturday night as they look to win their first tournament title since 2003.

“It’s been on my mind the last week or so, especially with playoffs coming around,” Goumas said of his collegiate career potentially ending. “The way I’ve been playing, just go out there and make sure it’s not my last game. I want to take care of business here in Hockey East first, but I also want one more chance to get to the NCAA tournament and a national championship.” Read the rest of this entry »

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